Captain Husam Mohamed Ibrahim Khalil Kashif provides a bird’s eye view of Qatar Executive’s trajectory as the private jet division continues to connect discerning fliers across the globe – and shares his own personal career journey from pilot to Acting Executive Vice President and VP Operations.
You have more than 20 years’ experience in the aviation industry. Can you share how you came to be A/Executive Vice President & VP Operations at Qatar Executive?
I am a pilot by DNA, and as with most pilot stories, I fell in love with airplanes starting from childhood. I come from a family of aviators, pilots, engineers and executive managers. When I finished high school, I had one clear goal in my mind, to become a professional pilot working for the best airline out there, and here I am a few decades later.
I completed my flight training in the US, just before 9/11. When I graduated, the aviation industry took its second deepest dive in history. It was almost impossible for an inexperienced pilot to find a job at the time, so I had to do a few side jobs before I was fortunate enough to start in business and general private aviation, flying VIPs and delegations for the oil and gas industry in Malaysia and also in my home country of Sudan. I wouldn’t say I stumbled upon Qatar Airways, because they were all over the world, so my target was very clear: I wanted to be a Qatar Airways pilot and I made that a reality in 2006. I joined the airline as a newbie, co-piloting an Airbus A320 with many of the best, knowledgeable and safe captains that I have ever seen, who I shall forever be in debt to for all the priceless knowledge that I have received. I was 26 by then and it was a very exciting journey. Honestly, and I say this every day to all my pilot friends: if you stick around, there’s a lot to do and there’s a lot happening in Qatar Airways, my journey is living proof. That’s why I always feel honoured and proud to be part of this successful airline group, they are the best of the best, and the crème de la crème. I worked all the way up to becoming captain, then ground instructor and simulator training captain on the Airbus A320 and A340 family. During this time, I joined one of the reputable universities in the UK as a part-time student in the school of mathematics, and enrolled for MSC in science for air transport management.
Eventually, and this is not a typical path for pilots, I became part of the flight operation management as an assistant fleet manager of the Airbus fleet for the airline. A few years later, I was tasked by our Group CEO, H.E. Mr. Akbar Al Baker, to lead the flight operations department of Qatar Executive in 2017 as Vice President Flight Operations. I had previously flown missions and high-profile flights for Qatar Executive while I was a captain on the Airbus A340 type with the airline, so I had the chance to see what happens out there and in the air. That gives a wealth of experience to someone who would one day become a manager. It is not just about reading feedback, policies and procedures, I lived the action on the front line. I then transformed the entire operations department of Qatar Executive into one consolidated department and was heavily engaged with its daily and strategic management, from flight ops to ground ops to operational control. A few years later, our Group CEO honoured me again when he entrusted me with the responsibilities of Qatar Executive in its entirety as Acting Executive Vice President as well as VP Operations. So today I look after Qatar Executive on his Excellency’s behalf.
What does Qatar Executive’s current fleet of jets bring to the market?
We have a diversified, complex yet interesting fleet. What’s unique about Qatar Executive is that we have different aircraft types, and different operational rules of which to operate these types. Other companies would usually specialise in specific business models within general aviation, or they will manage aircraft, or offer fractional management of aircraft ownership. Qatar Executive is a hybrid of all of this. Civil Aviation Qatar has certified Qatar Executive to run our own Air Operator Certificate for commercial air transport operation (CAT) and for Non Commercial Complex (NCC) as well, so we are approved to fly as a commercial operator and as a private operator, and we clearly distinguish between the two. We have policies, procedures and manuals governing our two operations when we fly privately owned aircraft, such as the wide body jets and single isle aircraft, and when we fly the commercial operation in our beautiful business jets.
Within the commercial operation, our pride is the Gulfstream 650ER. We also operate the Bombardier Global 5000, and two Airbus ACJ VIP configuration aircraft, with one of them reconfigured with two stretchers for medical evacuation. A mix of fleet and types from different manufacturers. They all have similar layouts, cabin configurations, and specifications, and they all share the same service level standards of excellence. We are offering to the market a beautiful mix of choices and options. These are few of our competitive advantages compared to other companies, besides our immaculate and excellent safety record of zero accidents or serious incidents since the making of Qatar Executive. VIPs are obviously very conscious of their own wellbeing and safety, and we are already known in the market for being the safest of them all. Needless to mention our attention to detail and private and comfortable cabin environments. With the recent growing concerns globally for people’s wellbeing and health development, we’ve also invested heavily in making our planes as clean as possible.
What is the standard of service Qatar Executive works towards?
We always say, ‘fly in a style of your own’, and we mean every word. That starts from the minute you connect with Qatar Executive for a flight. We try to understand your needs, where you want to go and we offer a nice selection of services. We’ve also recently became very price conscious. We’re not very rigid in our prices because our first objective is not only to make money, but to make sure we are catering to our clients in the best possible way.
We will then work with you to understand what you expect on board, such as food and beverage preferences. You choose your own a la carte and we even extend above and beyond if you want certain brands or any specific restaurants. We have very experienced, highly dedicated cabin crew. They know how to make customers happy and then we complement this with a seamless experience from our competent pilots in the cockpit to ensure a safe journey. We can easily plan to fly turbulence-free flight, and this is mainly due to the performance of our beautiful jets, which fly above and beyond the weather conditions. They fly higher and faster than most other jets so you’ll find yourself in a very quiet environment until you get to your destination. The service also includes taking you away from the hectic airport environment to private terminals so that your journey is literally from A to B. We make it a very quick journey for you, so one would focus on their own family or business rather than worry about other issues while travelling.
The Gulfstream G650ER and Gulfstream G500 are the latest two models to be added to your fleet. What makes these jets so luxurious?
We were the launch customer for the Gulfstream G500 and we are also the launch customer for the Gulfstream G700. There was a strategic decision to maintain the Gulfstream 650ER as the prominent fleet. The G650ER enables us to fly and connect people between continents far apart, which is unusual in business aviation because the innovation was made for regional and domestic travel. Usually, you can only go as far as adjacent continents and that’s it, but we fly ultra-long-range flights. A couple of years ago, we decided to go full throttle and really connect people, even before Covid struck, so the G650ER proved itself as the aircraft that serves our mission and vision. We will add the G700, as soon as this new type of business jet receives its type certification from the US FAA. It’s a larger aircraft with similar unbeatable performance of the G650ER, which is not easy to achieve in the world of aviation, and everybody is looking forward to this new type.
Our Group CEO is very attentive to operational details and to the comfort of our clients and passengers. The layout of Qatar Executive cabins are uniformly configured. We have the galley, the cockpit, the flight crew rest compartment (away from the passengers), the divan with seats, dining, the private bedroom, and at the end we have the passenger’s bathroom with an access door to the baggage compartment. There are also partitions that can be moved during the flight to separate those compartments from each other and to provide exclusive privacy. Private aircraft are known for having beautiful layouts but also beautiful finishes. Everything is handpicked and our Group CEO has the top knowledge in choosing the best products. When we fly to participate in events and shows, you will see a line of people waiting to see the cabin of Qatar Executive aircraft.
How do you see the Qatar Executive fleet expanding in the future?
Our business model is very clear. We do manage aircraft, but the main module is the commercial business ownership of Qatar Executive. When we take strategic decisions, we conduct historical and statistical analysis of what we’ve been doing in the past, and what the market has seen and is forecasted to be, to define the next vision for Qatar Executive. The two factors that have to be maintained in any decision are safety and service-level excellence. We don’t trade this for extra profit or to bring on more customers.
Fleet expansion is ongoing: it’s a never stopping machine within Qatar Airways group, ever since I joined. Our Group CEO gave us all a very clear mandate: we have to maintain a very young fleet ranging between four to six years maximum, and we maintain that as much as possible. This is why we’re investing now and why we are bringing in this new type because our first G650ER is not yet older than six years and the G700 is coming very soon. We have the support from the group and our vision, and we make it happen.
How does Qatar Executive go above and beyond first class?
It’s an interesting question because premium class within an airline has different layers and standards. Business aviation also has different layers and standards within the sector. It’s not always the same service. Flying a specific type of airplane does not mean that you tap into private flying within Qatar Executive. The first class of Qatar Airways is far beyond many of the private and business aviation companies out there, so making a transition across an airline class, whether it’s first to business or private, doesn’t necessarily mean you have given yourself an upgrade.
Qatar Executive is a completely different proposition. There’s convenience involved, you create your trip as you go – your food, trip times and point of departure and arrival. You are hopping aboard Qatar Executive to fly in a trip that is as convenient as it can ever be, whereas this is more challenging when you are joining a big aircraft with plenty of people on board. It’s a challenge, obviously, for any company to custom make a flight for you if you’re with many others.
In private aviation overall, that’s the advantage you get, but what makes Qatar Executive special in the industry is that we don’t just fly privately, we give you the best of both worlds; exclusive business jets in airline structured style. It’s not easy in business aviation to ask to fly from Doha to Chicago, for instance. Companies do not all have the same capability of aircraft performance. If you want to fly a one-hour flight or a 15-hour flight – or take your friends or pet with you – we can make that happen. What is also special about Qatar Executive, as well as flexibility and agility, is we actually go above and beyond our contractual commitments. For us, when we sign something with you, it’s obviously a legal document, but what is more important to us is your satisfaction. A lot of hiccups can happen within this specific industry and we promise ourselves and our clients that we will never walk away from them. We always have solutions and are known for having the best reliability out there: we are punctual and our aircraft are always in immaculate condition.
Can you tell us how Qatar Executive is working to increase wellbeing and comfort for fliers post-pandemic?
On the Gulfstream G650ER the air is filtered so that 99.9% fresh air is boosted through the cabin every minute. We continuously conduct deep cleaning and have invested in ionization systems. The wellbeing of the passenger is also connected with not only the range and the time spent on board, but also the exposure to the environment. When you fly very high on an aircraft, the cabin has to be adjusted to an environment that a human can survive in. The higher the cabin altitude, the more side effects there are. If you fly the Gulfstream G650 you live in an environment that is half the height of the cabin altitude of another airline flying at the same altitude, if not less. So, if you are flying the G650ER at 40,000 feet, you probably feel as though you’re in Montblanc at 4,000 feet above the ground. You also don’t feel dry skin on the G650ER because the humidification is different onboard and you’re flying at a lower altitude, so you feel much better by the end of the trip. As an added service to our customers, after every flight our cabin crew, and even the pilots, will walk around the cabin and do a deep clean – there is a lot of activity happening in the background before and after each flight.
With your fleet able to fly long-haul around the world, where are your Qatar Executive customers based?
Our customers are based worldwide, and in every continent, due to the nature of our business and the capabilities of our aircraft, from Europe and the US often to Asia, Africa and the Middle East, although we have also started flying out of Australia and New Zealand as the Covid restrictions relaxed recently. Given the range and performance of our aircraft, our customer demographic is based all around the world. Some of my friends text me from Sao Paulo, Hong Kong, the United States and Australia with pictures of Qatar Executive: we are all over the place.
What have been some of your career highlights?
To become a captain for one of Qatar Airways’ beauties, which requires a lot of training, preparation, testing, assessments and interviews. You have to really prove that you are not just a safe pilot but that you understand the core of Qatar Airways Group’s value. So, taking on that role was one of my career highlights. Taking on the responsibility of Qatar Executive was definitely another big leap because I started having an overview, we call it the ‘bird’s eye view’, of the entire business, not just a specific department or service.
I even consider the period during Covid 19 as a career highlight because of how much it changed our lives. At Qatar Executive, we continued to connect families together and took people to their homes where many others turned them down. We changed directions and we made brave, bold, yet safe decisions. And Qatar Executive was very successful in its strategic decisions. Under the direction of our Group CEO, we went from being one of the best to sitting at the top of the pyramid. We have a very unique setup, so the way we operate our aircraft today is a highlight. You’ll find us anywhere, at any point of time, with the best product.
Looking forward to the future of private and business aviation, what developments excite you?
First of all, there’s a growing demand. Scale is huge, and also exciting. I think more and more people are now realizing that business and private aviation is a big and crucial part of the aviation industry. It used to be known dominantly in the States, Russia and Europe, but now I believe it’s known almost globally. This growing demand for charter flights creates demand for the additional services and the calibre of people who deliver them. Soon enough, this sector will see a huge influx of people who will want to join because of the uniqueness of business aviation. Every trip is a challenge and a lot more rewarding. I think more attention will be paid to business aviation from a regulatory point of view because all of a sudden, national authorities will notice the growing public interest. And when there’s a public interest, there’s always a demand to change and govern. Private and business aviation has always been the pioneering side of the industry. Believe it or not, a lot of technologies available today used by airlines were actually invented for business aviation.
Innovation and technology are going to become very interesting in the next couple of years. Especially when we talk about unmanned vehicles, drones, mobility and short, fast missions between cities and within cities. There are a lot of interesting technologies that are coming to business aviation before airlines. There will also be an ecofriendly move in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We have our policy within the group, but I think business aviation overall will see additional demands from regulatory bodies across the world. With the increase in travel demand, and charter flights, airspace traffic congestion will also increase. I’m personally interested to see how this will affect the airspace efficiency overall because today we have limited airspace capacity, which goes hand in hand with the technology. I’m sure something will come out of business aviation that will serve to increase frequency and enhance efficiency within the same size of airspace. We only have one earth and one airspace, do we not? How smartly we utilise this airspace depends on us, the aviators and innovators.
Last but not least, I would like to say that I have never thought that I would buy into business aviation as much as I do now. I’m in love with Qatar Executive and the way we do things, because every day is a challenge. And there’s a lot of accomplishment and self-satisfaction with each and every mission.