Qatar Airways received state aid of £1.5 billion before the impact of Covid-19 took hold of the global aviation sector.

The advance of 7.3 billion Qatari riyals [QAR] to the 25% shareholder in British Airways owner International Airlines Group is disclosed in the Gulf carrier’s annual report for the year to March 31.

The bailout came as the airline suffered deeper annual losses of QAR 7 billion against QAR 4.7 billion in the previous 12 months.

The group increased its shareholding in IAG in February from 21.4% to 25.1% at  cost of more than £450 million.

Qatar Airways described 2019-20 as “one of the most difficult years in the airline’s history”.

The airline said: “The combination of the ongoing illegal air space blockade against the State of Qatar, the liquidation of Air Italy by the majority shareholder, changes to accounting policy and reporting standards and the Covid-19 pandemic crisis has resulted in the Qatar Airways Group reporting a net loss of QAR 7 billion for the year 2019-20.”

The impact of Covid-19 on travel demand forced the airline to ground its fleet of Airbus A380 superjumbos “as it is not commercially or environmentally justifiable to operate such a large aircraft in the current market”.

Instead, the airline’s 49 Airbus A350s and 30 Boeing 787 Dreamliners “are the ideal choice for the most strategically important long-haul routes to Africa, the Americas, Europe and Asia-Pacific regions”.

Chief executive Akbar Al Baker, said: “Never before in the history of commercial aviation has our industry faced a challenge of this scale and magnitude.

“We have yet to fully understand the long-term consequences of the virus upon our industry as a whole but, over the course of just a few short months, we saw a reported worldwide decline in international air travel of almost 95%, and a global reduction in seat capacity of 87% in April 2020 compared to April 2019.

“Despite the momentous challenges our group has faced in 2019-20, Qatar Airways Group continues to remain resilient, reporting strong underlying fundamentals.

“If not for the exceptional circumstances of fiscal year 2020, our results would have been better than the year before.

“I have every confidence that the Qatar Airways Group will emerge stronger from this difficult period and continue to innovate and set the standards that our competitors can only hope to emulate.

“We will continue to be the airline millions of passengers can trust and rely on in good times and bad, and proudly fly the flag of the State of Qatar across the globe.”

The Qatar Airways’ network has never fallen below 30 destinations during the pandemic with continuous services to five continents.

The airline has since rebuilt its network to more than 650 weekly flights to over 90 destinations across six continents from its Doha hub.