DOHA: Qatar expects up to 200,000 air passengers a day during the World Cup, authorities said Thursday, with airlines across the Gulf organizing scores of shuttle flights to bring fans in. In a major operation to cope with the four-week long football tournament, Akbar Al-Baker, tourism minister and the Qatar Airways chief executive, said some routes to countries not involved in the 32-nation tournament would be halted and others reduced.
Baker said Qatar's Hamad International Airport and the older Doha International Airport would see capacity doubled to more than 200,000 people a day. With Qatar under mounting pressure to find room for fans, Saudia, Kuwait Airways, flydubai and Oman Air will organize more than 160 daily shuttle flights from Nov 20 to bring supporters on one-day trips to see matches.
Officials estimate that more than 20,000 fans could come in each day on shuttles from Gulf neighbors. Saudia chief executive Ibrahim Koshy said the airline would run at least 30 round trip flights each day from the cities of Riyadh and Jeddah, that could carry 10,000 fans. Flydubai would operate at least 30 return flights, Kuwait Airways 10 and Oman Air 24, Baker said.
All flights would be reserved for fans with World Cup tickets and who have carried out special registration, including biometric details. Baker promised "seamless" immigration and security processing that would see them treated as though they were arriving on a domestic flight. Qatar has predicted that 1.4 million people will visit the tiny Gulf state during the World Cup, and many fan groups have expressed concerns about accommodation and air travel.
Baker said Qatar's civil aviation authorities were increasing airspace capacity so that the three runways at Hamad airport could operate "continuously" during the World Cup from November 21 to December 18. He said Qatar Airways would cut flights to destinations that are "irrelevant" to the World Cup, so that it could increase flights to countries taking part.
Some 70 percent of Qatar Airways regular flights would see their times changed so that extra flights can be organized. The airports would have to handle charter flights and airlines that have asked to establish regular lines because of the World Cup. "There will be no room left (for incoming airlines), when you are tailor-making the capacity, for delays, for holding times," Baker warned. He said that "state of the art immigration systems" would be introduced to speed up the arrival of international passengers. - AFP