FlightPlan III: It’s a Mistake for Governments to Distance Themselves from Aviation, Says Al Baker


BBC Presenter Aaron Heslehurst interviews Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker during FlightPlan III: C-Suite Week

During the third of five FlightPlan III: C-Suite Week interviews, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker was quizzed by the BBC’s Aaron Heslehurst about its fleet plans in light of recent issues with Airbus and as a result of the pandemic. FlightPlan III: C-Suite Week was developed by Inmarsat Aviation in partnership with APEX. 

Qatar Airways announced publicly that it was having issues with Airbus in late May, saying it could cause the OEM problems with other airlines that Qatar has a stake in. 

During his FlightPlan III: C-Suite Week interview, the carrier’s CEO Akbar Al Baker clarified that while he wouldn’t try to use his influence over these airlines as a strategic shareholder, “When they know that Qatar Airways has an issue, it raises eyebrows. They want to know what the problem is because they fly the same airplanes.”

Al Baker maintained that Qatar Airways will not take delivery of any Airbus aircraft until the undisclosed issue is resolved, and said it will “not accept bullying from any planemaker.” When Heslehurst asked Al Baker to elaborate on whether he felt Qatar Airways had been bullied, he responded, “Yes, because they are ignoring the fact that there is a serious issue. They are just trying to drag their feet instead of solving the problem.”

He went on to express the opinion that the Airbus A380 has no place in a post-pandemic world, attributing this to two reasons: “The business is not going to turn around that quickly, so there will not be enough passengers to fill them. There’s also the environmental issue. People want aircraft that are fuel efficient and the A380 doesn’t fit this bill. This is why Qatar Airways has grounded its ten A380s. If we go back to operating them at all, I don’t think it will be more than five.”

“Governments are not realizing that they cannot let this industry go under.”

Akbar Al Baker, Qatar Airways

However, Al Baker said he is excited to replace the carrier’s Boeing 777-300ERs with the new Boeing 777X aircraft, which will form the backbone of its wide-body fleet alongside Airbus A350s and Boeing 787s. Qatar Airways ordered 60 of the type in 2014 and is set to be the launch customer despite deciding to defer the first deliveries late last year. Al Baker said that Qatar could also become the launch customer for the freighter version of the aircraft, as it is hoping to place an order by the third quarter of this year. Nonetheless, he said Qatar is still also considering A350 freighters.

On becoming chairman of the oneworld alliance, Al Baker said, “Under my leadership, we don’t accept anything other than being number one.” To this end, his aim is to grow the number of members in the alliance as well as its brand presence. “I think the airline members, minus Qatar Airways, are not branding the Alliance in the way it deserves. It is important that we be aggressive and let people know that we are the best.” 

Although he admitted that oneworld is struggling, just like all alliances, Al Baker strongly believes that travel will rebound. “It’s like during the financial crisis, which was due to mortgages – people didn’t stop mortgaging their properties. Travel is important in exactly the same way.”

He acknowledged that business travel would take longer to recover than leisure travel, but argued that leisure is filling the gap in premium classes. “We have 15-20% more occupants in our premium cabin than pre-pandemic and our yields and prices are higher than pre-pandemic. People want to travel and people are ready to pay.”

Al Baker also chastised governments “for distancing themselves from aviation,” calling it “a mistake.” He concluded his interview by telling Heslehurst, “Governments are not realizing that they cannot let this industry go under. We are so used to it being part of our lives, allowing us to travel, to trade, to develop tourism and to deliver people.” 

You can access the interview and others from the event here