The high-flying chief

In just two decades, Qatar Airways’  has become a force to be reckoned with in the aviation world. The airline’s outspoken CEO, Akbar Al-Baker, speaks his mind to Sim Kok Chwee.

Akbar Al-Baker

In recent years, the global aviation sector appears to have evolved into a Middle East versus the world carriers scenario. What do you make of the attention given to the Gulf carriers?
We are getting free publicity. (Such claims) have no substance. We are operated just like any other airline. (The US carriers) are fighting a proxy war on behalf of their joint-venture partners; they have not been able to prove we have violated the air services agreements.

Akbar Al-Baker

Qatar Airways has threatened to leave the Oneworld alliance, and you stated that you would not join another alliance but form your own. What will be the deal-breaker?
If we cannot work as a family or as a real alliance (or) if one member is undermining the interests of its other members, then we will not continue to be a member of the alliance.

Are airports in the Asia-Pacific region coping with growth and matching the experience that Qatar Airways is delivering in the air?
Airports in the Far East are delivering the quality of service and amenities. Qatar Airways has gone one step ahead. Our new Hamad International Airport has been named the best airport in the Middle East and is able to compete with any airport in the world. Those facilities are built over a lifetime.

Hamad International Airport is difficult for anyone to match. It is the only airport in the world to be designed and built with one hundred per cent input of an airline – Qatar Airways. All the needs of passengers in premium and economy classes were addressed in detail and matched with the highest quality of product.

What innovation do you wish to see in the aircraft cabin for all classes?
The manufacturers do not propose to us. We raise the bar. Qatar Airways has changed even airlines in the region. We were the first to have horizontal flat seats, and a lounge on board our First Class cabin. We are always one step ahead of the other airlines, (even) Singapore Airlines will have difficulties narrowing the gap.

Is the time right for manufacturers to re-visit the higher-speed ultra-longhaul aircraft? Is ultra-longhaul travel limited by aircraft range or the human’s ability to stay alive and sane beyond 17 hours in the air?
We already have our fleet of ultra-longhaul aircraft available. These include the Boeing 777-200LR and the Airbus A350-900 along with the B777X on order.

There could be a possibility of an aircraft with the ability to fly at a speed higher than Mach 0.85. In any case, the Gulfstream G650 of Qatar Executive cruises at Mach 0.9.

You have been appointed to IATA Board of Governors. What legacy would you like to leave at the end of your term in 2018?
Since the 67th IATA Annual General Meeting in Singapore in 2011 where Qatar Airways challenged the way the association worked, there has been a sea of change in the way it operates.

In the interest of all airlines, it is my duty towards them to ensure IATA operates efficiently and with corporate governance and represents all the airlines of the world.


This article was first published in TTG Asia, April 1, 2016 issue, on page 13. To read more, please view our digital edition or click here to subscribe

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