Monday, August 4, 2014

The private jets of luxury airline Amiri in Qatar are top secret

IT’S the airline you can’t fly on. Unless you’re royalty, or a government official in Qatar, that is.Sarah Steegar, a flight attendant with a major US carrier for the past 15 years, sheds some light on what could be the world’s most mysterious carrier.

The first I’d heard about this airline was an encounter my friend Adam claims he had with them.
He said he was checking into a Mandarin Oriental hotel when an airline crew caught his eye. It was a large, commercial-sized crew that were decked out in Cartier watches and other eye-catching gear. The captain — standing beside him at the desk — presented a black AmEx card to the staff which allegedly had “pre-approved for $100,000 in charges”.

My friend thought I might know something about this mysterious operation. I didn’t, and I was as intrigued as he was.

Adam claimed he’d managed to grab a brief word with one of the flight attendants. She said their airline was called Amiri — a “VVIP airline” from Qatar that didn’t carry commercial passengers. Unsurprisingly, details beyond that are not too easy to come by. Here’s what we know.

The airline’s full name is Qatar Amiri Flight (QAF), an airline for both the royal family and high ranked government staff of Qatar. Its fleet is reportedly 11-13 strong and all mostly Airbus planes, except for a few 747s. It staffs about 100 cabin crew and only hires Captains (First Officers need not apply).

Part of Qatar Airways, it has been going through a restructuring over the last five or six years, fully separating it into a separate entity with its own CEO (rather than Qatar’s Akbar Al Baker). Still, most of Amiri’s fleet is painted with Qatar Airways’ livery.

The cabin staff are thought to be exclusively recruited from Qatar Airways, maybe because few outside applicants will have even heard of the airline. The application is seemingly open to the public, though interviewees are informed that, if accepted, they must first work Qatar Airways main line First Class for three to six months (sources vary), so this may also contribute to the idea that working for QAF is exclusively a Qatar Airways promotion.
The pay is advertised as “very appropriate”. The top listed “skill” requirement on the application is “a deferential personality”.

Obviously, there are other VVIP airlines (e.g. Saudi Ogar, Kalair, Ajwaa, Midroc, Al Khayala and Royal Jet — which is 50 per cent owned by Amiri), but for some reason Amiri seems to stand out.
I can’t help but be intrigued. It’s like hearing about a new country.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

UNWTO supports Qatar’s new Tourism Strategy

UNWTO is supporting Qatar to implement its new tourism strategy through collaboration in the areas of legislation, institutional strengthening, statistics, marketing and capacity building. During an official visit to the country, where he met H.E. Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, Prime Minister of Qatar and attended the launch of Qatar’s Tourism Strategy, UNWTO Secretary-General, Taleb Rifai welcomed the high priority afforded to the tourism sector in Qatar (22-25 February 2014).

“I would like to commend the government of Qatar for placing the tourism sector as a strategic pillar within its National Vision 2030. This is a clear recognition of the role tourism can play in boosting the image of Qatar, diversifying its economic base and driving sustainable development in the country”, said Mr. Rifai.

During an audience with H.E. Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani, Prime Minister of Qatar, UNWTO Secretary-General presented him with the UNWTO/WTTC Open Letter on Travel and Tourism. The Open Letter reaffirms the commitment of a country to tourism as vital sector in the economy and the society.

Looking into the future, the Secretary-General said “According to UNWTO long term forecast, the Middle East is expected to triple its current volume of international tourism by 2030 when it will welcome 149 million international tourists a year. With an investment portfolio of US$ 17 billion over the next five years, including 130 new hotels, resorts and other leisure facilities, a new international airport, a new port with cruise passenger terminal, some 12 sports stadiums and various cultural iconic centres, Qatar is set to become a leading tourism destination and take full advantage of such growth.”

UNWTO has been collaborating with the Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) in the implementation of Qatar’s Tourism Strategy. Meeting with H.E. Issa Al Muhannadi, Chairman of QTA, Mr. Rifai discussed how to advance the collaboration between UNWTO and QTA in areas ranging from institution building, such as the legislative and organizational framework and the regulation of tourism activities, to the development of Qatar’s national system of tourism statistics.

Qatar’s tourism has grown significantly over recent years with the total number of international tourists visiting the country rising from less than half a million in 2000 to over one million today.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Moving World Cup from Qatar counter-productive - Zwanziger

The 2022 World Cup should stay in Qatar to keep the pressure on the Gulf nation to improve its labor rights record, a FIFA executive committee member said on Thursday.

"People have been asking when FIFA would be taking the World Cup away from Qatar but I think that would be counter-productive," Theo Zwanziger told a European parliament sub-committee on human rights.

"It would mean the current situation, the human rights violations would go on. It would simply mean that the spotlight would be put away from them."

Qatar has been under fire for its treatment of migrant workers in the construction industry after Britain's Guardian newspaper reported in September that dozens of Nepali laborers had died.

"What is now important is to use the pressure that you get from this global event, which interests billions of people, as an opportunity to ask Qatar to show it's an open and tolerant country," German Zwanziger added.

"They need to show this as quickly as possible."

Amnesty International and the International Trade Union Confederation have also criticized the treatment of migrant laborers in Qatar, fearing the problem could worsen with the extra construction work needed for the tournament.

On Tuesday, Qatari World Cup organizers produced a 50-page document outlining stricter measures that would apply to contractors involved in building work for the tournament.


Barbara Lochbilder, the head of the European Parliament committee, said Qatar had moved in the right direction although it had not shown any sign of reforming the kafala, a system where laborers are usually "sponsored" by their employer.

"There have been a number of improvements with regard to the working situation," she said. "On the downside, the government has not shown any sign it wants to reform the kafala system nor shown it wants to come up with a new system that would be specific to migrants."

The world players' union FIFPro said the respect of human rights should be a basic condition for any World Cup host nation in the future.

"The prestige and political significance of the highest level of sporting events - the World Cup or the Olympics - are great enough to motivate change if it is a non-negotiable precondition," said FIFPro's Jonas Baer-Hoffmann.

"While our mandate is to represent professional football players and safeguard their rights, we support our fellow union colleagues fighting for the same cause to ensure all workers can enjoy those very same rights and freedoms, regardless of their occupation."

The committee also heard from Zahir Belounis, a former French footballer who was prevented from leaving Qatar for 17 months after he fell into a dispute with a local club.

"This kafala system is not for our time," he said. "All I wanted to do was to go home to France. I went through two years of torture (hell) and decided to stop playing because I no longer had the strength."

Friday, February 14, 2014

Sheraton Doha Resort & Convention Hotel and QSA sign contract

The officials of Qatar Swimming Association (QSA) and Sheraton Doha Resort & Convention Hotel have signed a contract to for cooperation. The both teams of officials pose for a picture after a contract signing ceremony at Qatar Olympic Committee’s headquarters in Doha yesterday. Qatar will host the 3rd FINA World Aquatics Convention from November 29 to December 1.

The FINA World Aquatics Convention is a high profile event that will bring together sport leaders, top swimmers, international media, sport service providers related to the Aquatics sports, in a three-day event, prior to the start of the FINA World Swimming Championships.

Doha will also host the 12th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) from December 3 to 7. The Organising Committee members of 12th FINA World Swimming Championships (25m) were also present at the signing ceremony.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Tour of Qatar 2014 preview

February has become Middle-East month for the peloton, who from Sunday 9 to Friday 14 will take part in the Tour of Qatar.

Now into its 13th edition, it is the most firmly established of the Middle-Eastern races, although more have popped up in recent years: the Tour of Oman that follows it began in 2012, and the Dubai Tour was introduced this year to precede it.

The organisers have altered the formula for the 2014 edition slightly. The five flat stages are interrupted by a 10.9-kilometre individual time trial on the third day of racing, rather than previous years’ team time trial. Spice is added to the proceedings thanks to the vicious winds that are liable make the race difficult to control and potentially create time gaps.

If February is the month of Middle-Eastern races, then March is when the spring classics season begins, and many classics specialists will be seeking to build their form in Qatar. Included are Fabian Cancellara and four time winner Tom Boonen, who missed last year’s race with an injury. Boonen’s Omega Pharma-QuickStep team-mate Mark Cavendish took the honours in his absence, but Cavendish is not included this year.
Team Sky are not sending their A-team, which gives the likes of Ian Stannard a chance to relinquish domestique duty and ride for their own personal glory. With the first monument of the season, Milan-San-Remo, six weeks away, now is the time to start catching the eye.

There are four British riders on the provisional start list: Luke Rowe (Sky), Ian Stannard (Sky), Andy Fenn (Omega Pharma-QuickStep) and Scott Thwaites (NetApp-Endura).
Ones to watch

Tom Boonen
Easily the rider with most past success at the Tour of Qatar, having won 20 stages, six points classification jerseys, and the overall four times. Though the time trial doesn’t seems to suit his skill set, he won an 11.3k effort en route to overall victory in 2012.

Fabian Cancellara
What could be a season of titanic duals between the Swiss former world time trial champion and Boonen could begin on the roads of Qatar. If he has any form, he should win both the time trial and the overall.

Andre Greipel
Fresh from his two stage wins in the season’s first big meet at the Tour down Under, the German has four more flat stages to potentially exert his dominance in. He’s the best sprinter in the field, and should win a handful.

Ian Stannard
The Brit’s huge frame and big engine make him the perfect rider to combat the windy and flat conditions in Qatar. Last year was the 26-year-old’s best to date; can he improve again in 2014?

Tour of Qatar 2014: Stages
Sunday February 9, Stage one, Al Wakra to Dukhan Beach, 135.5km
Monday February 10, Stage two, Camel Race Track to Al Khor Corniche, 160.5km
Tuesday February 11, Stage three, Lusail Circuit to Lusail Circuit, 10.9km ITT
Wednesday February 12, Stage four, Dukhan to Mesaieed, 135km
Thursday February 13, Stage five, Al Zubara Fort to Madinat Al Shamal, 159km
Friday February 14, Stage six, Sealine Beach Resort to Doha Corniche, 113.5km
Tour of Qatar 2014: Teams

Ag2r La Mondiale
Bardiani CSF
BMC Racing
IAM Cycling
Omega Pharma-QuickStep
Skydive Dubai
Trek Factory Racing

Monday, February 3, 2014

Qatar to fly through Cyprus

Qatar has shown interest in furthering its cooperation with Cyprus in the aviation sector and make the island a hub for other European destinations.

According to Phileleftheros sources, Qatar has requested fifth freedom privileges in a communication between its head of its Civil Aviation Authority Chairman Abdulaziz Mohammed Al Noaimi and Under Secretary to the President Constantinos Petrides during President Nicos Anastasiades’ recent official visit to Qatar.

The fifth freedom allows an airline to carry revenue traffic between foreign countries as a part of services connecting the airline’s own country. It is the right to carry passengers from one’s own country to a second country, and from that country to a third country and beyond.

The same sources said that as well as the request for fifth freedom privileges, which are reported to be viewed in a positive light by the Cyprus government, Qatar indicated it would also be interested in other aviation-related cooperation. Qatar Airways is due to begin flights to and from Cyprus on April 29 using an Airbus A320. There will be four flights a week linking Larnaca and Doha.

In a recent announcement, Qatar Airways said that Larnaca was considered to be a special destination it was happy to be including in its flight programme.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Qatar GCC's most expensive country for living

Qatar’s tight rental market has made it the most expensive country to live in the GCC, according to a comprehensive analysis on the cost of living in the region.

Details contained in publications by Cost of Living Reports Middle East (CLR), to be covered in a series of articles by Arabian Business this week, has revealed the true cost of life in the GCC across sectors such as accommodation, food, healthcare, education, transport and lifestyle.

In an overall snapshot, the CLR’s GCC report has found that in a like-for-like comparison of seven measures, Qatar came out the most expensive overall, followed by the UAE, Saudi, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait.

Heavily influencing the result, the figures show the average cost in Q4 last year to rent a two-bedroom apartment in Qatar was $42,930 a year, which was $15,540 more than the next highest average of $27,390 per year in the UAE, and 15 times more expensive than Bahrain ($2,849 per year).

In its analysis, Dubai-based CLR said luxury developments such as The Pearl as well as limited supply and high demand had driven up rental prices in Qatar, while the Bahraini real estate market had been hit by political turmoil in the country and an exodus of expatriates in 2011-12.

Qatar also emerged as the most expensive GCC nation for renting a car with a monthly fee of $2,773 to rent a small SUV – almost double the $1,390.50 cost for the same car in the UAE – while an annual gym membership in Qatar was $2,686.5 compared to $81 a year in Saudi and a meager $48 in Oman.
The CLR report found a mid-level GP consultation was most expensive in the UAE ($78.50), followed by Qatar ($54), Saudi and Bahrain ($27), Kuwait ($26.50) and Oman ($13).

The price of a single person health insurance policy, though generally covered by employers, was most expensive in Bahrain ($2,312 per year) and cheapest in Kuwait ($266 per year).

However, CLR noted the UAE had the biggest range of healthcare in terms of international hospitals and clinics, while the more than seven big, local drug manufacturing plants in Saudi, where insurance was $1,350/yr, brought down pharmaceutical costs somewhat.

The report also compared the cost of 21 typical food items across the GCC, including bread, bottled water and a McDonald’s Big Mac, with Bahrain emerging most expensive at $88.80, closely followed by Kuwait ($83.68), Oman ($74.28), Saudi ($61.85), UAE ($61.32) and Qatar ($56.19).
In Qatar, CLR noted, meat was subsidised while Bahrain had the smallest population in the GCC at 1.3m people with “little buying power leverage”.

The report found the cost of power, water and sewerage for an average three-bedroom apartment was highest in the UAE at $268.5 per bill, with Oman the second-highest at $160, followed by Bahrain ($135.50), Qatar ($135) and Kuwait ($83). Saudi was the cheapest country for utilities at a comparatively low $55.

Education expenses were fairly even across the GCC, according to the report, with average annual tuition fees at an international school ranging between $7,579 a year in Bahrain to $12,981 in Oman.

CLR, which said it served more than 70 Fortune 500 clients and provided data on socioeconomic, political and legislative reforms, said the highest GDP was in Qatar at more than $100,000 per capita followed by Abu Dhabi at $90,000 per capita. In Qatar, 94 percent of its population was expatriates, with the figure almost as high in the UAE at 80 percent.