Qatar Airways CEO Wants American to “Stop Being Misled by Delta” and Drop Etihad Partnership

Qatar Airways was recently awarded the title of Airline of the Year by CAPA (Center of Aviation, formerly Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation). Specifically, they earned the title “for its innovative strategy in a dynamic region.” Qatar’s CEO Akbar Al Baker sat down for an interview after accepting the award, and there are some interesting tidbits.

To begin, Al Baker joked that he acknowledges his reputation as “The Dictator,” but insisted that he’s being a “benevolent dictator,” and that it’s necessary to achieve good service.

I know that people discounted me, when I became the CEO…and people thought that “this guys is talking nonsense,” especially one of my regional competitor. …but today, we are a major player in the region, and we are the trendsetter. We have innovated things that everybody else is following.

You know it’s not an Akbar Al Baker interview if there aren’t entertaining comments about the anti-Gulf carriers sentiments. When asked about Qatar’s strategy and why other carriers fear Gulf carriers, Al Baker had this to offer (emphasis mine).

Actually there is a level playing field but they cannot play on the level playing field. They want to keep the cake and eat it themselves…

I think once you start codesharing…you can get into so many benefits that collaborations will bring. This should be taken as a lesson by others, [who are] just sitting on the fence and crying foul that Gulf carriers have plenty of money…they are just sitting and smelling glue. They don’t realize that we are really sophisticated countries, we don’t throw away money, and we are launching successful entities.

Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker received the Airline of the Year award on behalf of the airline at the CAPA Aviation Awards for Excellence. Flickr/Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker received the Airline of the Year award on behalf of the airline at the CAPA Aviation Awards for Excellence. Flickr/Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways is the first airline in the Gulf region to join a global alliance, and Al Baker mentioned a little bit about developments in that area. They recently began a joint venture with British Airways, and Al Baker said Qatar would like to do the same with American Airlines. Of course, Qatar holds a ~20% stake of IAG, which owns British Airways, so the nature of a AA-Qatar joint venture might be a little different. Finally, Al Baker took the opportunity to throw some shade at Delta, and point out his desire for a more dedicated partnership with American.

I don’t see the sense of them doing business with two airlines from the same region and diverting more traffic to Etihad, ignoring the alliance partner Qatar Airways. I’m a businessman and I would be delighted to do [a joint venture] with American. I think the American Airlines administration has been misled by Delta and I think in the long run they will realize that a partnership with Qatar Airways is a very robust business proposition for them.

Regarding the future, Al Baker had this to say (emphasis mine).

Qatar Airways will keep going from strength to strength. Over the next 2 years to 2 and a half years, we will have a fleet of over 250 aircraft. We will make sure out fleet age is always really young, and at the same time making some more acquistions. We will be making some very interesting announcements soon…we will always be with successful people; we are not going to collect crap. 

It’s an interesting interview, for sure. I don’t think I can see American dropping its partnership with Etihad in the short term, and the joint venture might be even more unlikely. However, it’s definitely interesting to see the direction to Qatar wants the relationship take. As for the “interesting announcements,” I’ll take them with a grain of salt for now…

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