Cardiff Airport unveils Qatar Airways flights

Image source, Qatar Airways

Long-haul flights from Cardiff Airport to the Middle East have been announced by Qatar Airways.

Attracting long-haul destinations has been one of the aims of the airport as part of its growth strategy.

It already has flights to Orlando in Florida and now Qatar Airlines will fly to Doha, Qatar's capital, from 2018.

More than 1.3 million people used the airport in the Vale of Glamorgan in 2016 - a 16% growth in passenger numbers.

Deb Barber, chief executive of Cardiff Airport, said: "It is fantastic that we will now be able to offer our customers more choice of travel with a world-class airline providing easy connections to destinations across the world."

Via its hub at Hamad International Airport, Qatar Airways connects to destinations including Australia, Thailand and China.

Ms Barber added: "It has been a long journey to get to this stage, with discussions spanning a number of years.

"Over the coming months we will work with the team at Qatar Airways to confirm the details of the service and look forward to the flights being on sale in the near future."

Cardiff Airport already operates flights to 50 destinations, adding Rome last month, with plans to add Madrid and a new service to Guernsey.

Analysis from Sarah Dickins, BBC Wales economics correspondent

The new direct route from Cardiff to Doha is a reminder not just that the economy of Qatar is growing significantly but also that trade between Wales, the Arab world and beyond is increasing.

Figures released this month show that in 2016 exports from Wales to Qatar amounted to £26m. They are expected to grow further as Welsh businesses attempt to find new markets outside the European Union.

But Doha airport already attracts much more business than just from those visiting Qatar.

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
An artist's impression of the Umm Slal stadium, which will host the 2022 World Cup final

The state airline is a growing hub for the region and further east. Welsh exports to that wider area are significant. In 2016, businesses sold goods and services worth £281m to the Middle East and North Africa and worth more than £1bn to Asia and Oceania.

It is not just about business. Tourism to Doha itself is rising - it grew by 11.5% between 2010 and 2015 and will be under the spotlight as it prepares to host the Fifa World Cup in 2022.

Cardiff Airport was bought by the Welsh Government in 2013 for £52m following a slump in passenger numbers.

But it has ambitious targets of reaching three million passengers a year and a replacement terminal in the long term.

Roger Lewis, Cardiff Airport chairman, called the Qatar Airlines tie-up a "game changing announcement" for the airport and for Wales.

"The benefits of this relationship will be transformational for both businesses and passengers across the south west of England and for Wales," he added.

First Minister Carwyn Jones, who will be in Qatar next weekend to discuss potential investment opportunities, added: "This new route, and the relationship between Cardiff Airport and Qatar Airways, will open-up Wales' links with the rest of the world and deliver new economic, leisure and travel opportunities for Welsh businesses and the people of Wales."

Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns, who recently met senior managers at Qatar Airways to make the case for a service from Wales, added: "This new route will send a positive message about an outward looking Wales developing international trade and tourism links to the rest of the world."

Qatar Airlines' flights to Cardiff are among 12 new destinations for the airline, including San Francisco, Kiev and Lisbon, which were announced at a travel show in Dubai.

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