By Andrew Mills
Doha: Qatar Airways said on Thursday that fellow Gulf Arab airlines would operate more than 180 daily shuttle flights to Qatar during this year's soccer World Cup, allowing fans to fly in from nearby cities and easing accommodation pressure in Doha.
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker said the United Arab Emirates airline flydubai, Oman Air, Kuwait Airways and Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia) would run shuttle flights and that the UAE's Etihad and Air Arabia might also join the plan.
"Like anywhere else, there has always been a shortage of accommodation, so we are not unique. The biggest challenge for us is because everything is happening in one place," Baker said.
He described November's World Cup, the first to be held in the Middle East, as a "big cake" that will bring "huge economic benefit" that Doha aims to share with its Gulf neighbours.
Qatar hopes the tournament will attract roughly 1.2 million visitors, or almost half of the conservative country's population, posing a logistical and policing challenge.
Games will be at eight stadiums around Doha, the only major city in Qatar, which is roughly the size of Jamaica and the smallest state to have hosted soccer's biggest event.
Flydubai would operate up to 60 daily flights from Dubai, the region's tourism hub, carrying up to 2 500 fans, Baker said, while Oman Air would run up to 48 daily flights from Muscat, carrying up to 3 400 fans.
Saudia said it would operate up to 60 daily flights carrying up to 10 000 passengers from Riyadh and Jeddah. Kuwait Airways will run up to 20 flights a day carrying up to 1 700 fans.
The shuttle service will help overseas fans avoid expensive lodgings in Qatar. Tournament organisers say they would offer up to 130 000 rooms, including hotels.
The move could boost Qatar's ties with its neighbours following the resolution early last year of a political row that had seen Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt boycott Doha for more than three years.
This is "a way to improve the relations with its neighbours", said Danyel Reiche, a visiting professor at Georgetown and the co-author of a book on Qatar's hosting of the World Cup.