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How Qatar Airways is navigating through a pandemic

Passengers always come first for Qatar Airways, even during a worldwide crisis.

While no carrier has emerged unscathed from Covid-19’s wide-ranging fallout, few have made the best of such a challenging situation. Qatar Airways is one such example.

Last year, most airlines suspended operations. However, the Qatar Airways network never fell below 30 international destinations, even at the height of the pandemic. “Our mission has always been to take people home safely and reliably,” says Jared Lee, Qatar Airways’ vice president of sales for South-east Asia and South Asia.

“Since February 2020, Qatar Airways helped over 2.8 million passengers get home safely. We also worked closely with governments and embassies worldwide to organise over 400 charter flights to repatriate different nationalities stranded overseas,” adds Lee, who was tasked with starting operations in countries including Australia, China and Africa when he joined the airline in 2006.

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The carrier’s global repatriation efforts were recognised by Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, who personally thanked the state of Qatar for the carrier’s help with delivering donated medical aid to China, including transporting approximately 300 tonnes of medical supplies free of charge and donating 2.5 million face masks, plus 500,000 bottles of hand sanitisers.

Its 1 Million Kilos campaign, which ran from July to December last year, allowed charities to use Qatar Airways Cargo to transport humanitarian aid and medical supplies worldwide – and free of charge. “As the world’s largest cargo airline, we are committed to helping people in need during this difficult time,” says Lee.

The carrier has set ambitious goals towards reducing climate change as well. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), commercial aviation is responsible for 2 to 3 per cent of global carbon emissions.

To combat this, Qatar Airways claims to have one of the youngest and most fuel-efficient fleets in the industry, and is the first carrier in the Middle East to be accredited to the highest level possible in IATA’s Environmental Assessment programme.

It recently launched a voluntary carbon offset programme for passengers and is proactive in global initiatives to stop or prevent wildlife trafficking, too. It is also collaborating with Qatar University to produce a sustainable and affordable biofuel.

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Quisine, its upgraded Economy Class meal service, features larger portions and an 80 per cent increase in recyclable and biodegradable products. An elegantly simple solution of introducing oil-infused, ready-to-eat bread rolls has even significantly reduced plastic and butter waste.

On the social front, Qatar Airways partners with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency to support the delivery of crucial aid supplies and supports several projects involving sports – it is a key sponsor of FC Bayern Munich – and children’s education, such as building a school in Sichuan, China, after the devastating earthquake of 2008.

In 2020, it donated a further RMB500,000 (S$101,400) to bolster its commitment there.

The carrier’s work with children is particularly close to Lee’s heart. Asked about his most memorable project with the airline, Lee cites Football Dreams Africa that talent scouted promising teens (under 15) in Africa to play against FC Barcelona’s Junior A team. This gave the youngsters “the chance to fulfil their dreams of reaching the heights of international football”.

The children’s talent and drive no doubt moved Lee, whose team has also demonstrated resilience during challenging situations such as the Gulf crisis and, more recently, the pandemic.

“I find that many young people, especially recently, are very quick to point out their constraints and obstacles, which creates self-doubt,” says Lee.

“Having a positive can-do approach to work and life, to persevere in the face of adversity – this is a key to success.”

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