June 5, 2018 / 4:38 AM / 4 months ago

UPDATE 1-Qatar Airways could face 2nd straight annual loss amid Gulf crisis - CEO

* Airline made “substantial loss” in 2017

* Cash balance healthy, no government aid needed - CEO

* Open to making strategic investment in more airlines (Adds CEO comments)

By Victoria Bryan and Tim Hepher

SYDNEY, June 5 (Reuters) - Qatar Airways could face a second straight year of losses in 2018 amid a regional dispute that has banned the airline from four Arab countries, the airline’s CEO said on Tuesday.

Qatar Airways has been blocked from flying to 18 cities in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt since June 2017 when those countries cut ties with Qatar, accusing it of supporting terrorism. Doha denies the charges.

The carrier made a “substantial loss” in 2017, CEO Akbar al-Baker said in April, without disclosing the figure.

When asked about the outlook for 2018 in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday, al-Baker said: “Yes, there is a possibility it could be a second year of losses, but we have mitigated our losses in a big way.”

The airline has a healthy cash balance and does not need government aid at this time, he said on the sidelines of an industry conference.

“We don’t think we would need it (government aid) in the foreseeable future. But if this blockade continues indefinitely there will be a time where we have to approach our shareholder to inject equity into the company.”

He said Qatar Airways, which has stakes in British Airways parent IAG, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd and South America’s LATAM Airlines Group SA, was open to strategic investment in other airlines.

Qatar Airways is in the process of filing for a licence to set up a new airline in India, al-Baker said, but he warned the regulatory requirements were tough.

“It may not come to fruition but we will do all in our endeavours to fulfil this wish,” he said. (Reporting by Victoria Bryan and Tim Hepher, writing by Jamie Freed; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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