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Coronavirus: Qatar Airways to ask for state support as travel restrictions bite

The airline is operating a full flight schedule, repatriating those left stranded because of the pandemic
Qatar Airways was already heading for a loss this financial year (Reuters)

Qatar Airways will soon run out of cash and need government support to continue flying, its chief executive Akbar al-Baker said, as travel restrictions introduced in response to the coronavirus pandemic continue to hammer the airline industry.

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"We have received many requests from governments all over the world, embassies in certain countries, requesting Qatar Airways not to stop flying," Baker told Reuters.

The airline is one of the few continuing to maintain its flight schedule and expects to operate 1,800 flights over the next two weeks. Meanwhile, rivals Emirates and Etihad Airways, of the United Arab Emirates, have grounded passenger operations.

Qatar Airways' flights to Europe, Asia and Australia continue to repatriate people left stranded in countries whose borders have shut.

"We will fly as long as it is necessary and we have requests to get stranded people to their homes, provided the airspace is open and the airports are open," Baker said.

But Baker said that this was coming at a high cost to the airline and that it could only sustain operations for a "very short period".

"We will surely go to our government eventually," Baker said, adding that the airline was taking measures to conserve cash.

Some flights have been operating at 50 percent occupancy or less and the company had said before the pandemic that it would report a loss this financial year. The regional political spat between Qatar and its Gulf neighbours has forced the airline to fly longer, more expensive routes to avoid flying over the airspace of those countries.

Several states have already stepped in to support airlines affected by the pandemic, with the United States offering $58bn in aid.

Emirates staff have already taken paid and unpaid leave voluntarily and some have offered to take pay cuts. But Baker said that staff would not be forced to take a pay cut and that he had forfeited his salary until the airline resumes normal business.