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One year and one week after Cardiff Airport announced its first long-haul link with the Gulf, Qatar Airways flight 323 touched down ahead of schedule after a 3,400-mile flight from Doha.

The brand-new Airbus A350, just delivered to the Qatari airline, was specially deployed for the first flight. It dwarfed the narrow-bodied aircraft arriving from Alicante, Barcelona and Paris.

For future trips, a Boeing 787 Dreamliner will be used.

It is the first time that Wales has had a link with the Gulf. Politicians and travel and tourism executives believe the connection with Doha will have wide-ranging benefits. South Wales is now one stop from New South Wales and the rest of Australia, with Bali, Bangkok and 150 other destinations available to travellers.

Qatar Airways’ chief executive, Akbar Al Baker, revealed the new route on 24 April 2017. He was on the inaugural flight, along with the first minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones, and the Welsh secretary, Alun Cairns.

Cardiff Airport, located south-west of the Welsh capital at Rhoose, won the award for best UK airport with fewer than three million passengers in 2017. But it has struggled financially for years, and was controversially bought by the Welsh Government in 2013 for £52m.

While British Airways aircraft are frequently seen landing and taking off, that is because BA has a large maintenance operation at Cardiff. The airline has not flown commercially to or from the airport since 2007.

But Cardiff has scored a victory over its arch-rival, Bristol Airport, in securing the link to the Gulf. Bristol, just seven minutes’ flying time to the east, is far more successful. It is a base for both easyJet and Ryanair, and claims to handle more passengers from Wales than does Cardiff Airport.

The inbound flight went directly over Bristol Airport before turning right for its final approach. Pointedly, Roger Lewis, chairman of Cardiff Airport, said: “This is a pivotal moment for Cardiff Airport, for Wales and the South West of England. The far reaching consequences of this service for passengers and businesses will be transformational.”

Bristol had been widely expected to get the first service from the West of England and South Wales region on one of the “Middle East 3”: Emirates of Dubai, Etihad of Abu Dhabi and Qatar Airways.

The fortunes of the big Gulf carriers may be waning. Emirates has grounded some aircraft due to weak demand and a shortage of pilots. Etihad, having made some disastrous investments in failing European airlines, is axing routes as it seeks to stem losses.

Qatar Airways is suffering from continuing geo-political tension in the Gulf, which means its aircraft are banned from the airspace of several nearby nations. Planes must fly long diversions to avoid the territory of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt.

But, so long as the route continues to 2022, it could fly the Wales football team to the World Cup in Qatar


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