Aviation’s Mr Controversial visits Sydney

Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker in Sydney. (Jordan Chong
Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker in Sydney. (Jordan Chong)

Akbar Al Baker is a very controversial figure in aviation. But don’t take Australian Aviation’s word of it, that’s the opinion of none other than the man himself.

Introduced as “His Excellency”, Al Baker fronted journalists and other invited guests at a swanky Sydney hotel on Thursday to talk up the start of Qatar’s new daily service to Sydney, which touched down for the first time on Wednesday evening.

Al Baker had those in attendance prepared for fireworks when he declared at the start of the media conference, which began more than half an hour late: “I know that my airline is always creating a lot of hype wherever we go and I am sure you also know that I am a very controversial figure in the aviation industry.”

What followed was an hour where Al Baker had yet another dig at Delta Air Lines over the airline’s efforts to wind back the open skies agreement between the US and Qatar, chided a questioner for suggesting the oneworld alliance member had “relatively low brand awareness” in Sydney and blasted Pratt & Whitney over the engine issues that forced Qatar to refuse acceptance of the Airbus A320neo.

The Qatar chief executive also called on the International Air Transport Association (IATA), where he is a member of the Board of Governors, to do more to help locate missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 and defended the handling of a runway overrun incident at Miami Airport in 2015 when a Qatar aircraft struck approach lights on takeoff, despite the pilots on the flight now no longer being with the airline.

“This runway overrun happens very often in airports,” Al Baker said.

“Rest assured that it will be the last time that Qatar Airways aircraft overrun.”

Asked why the pilots were no longer working at Qatar, Al Baker said: “In Qatar Airways we will not accept any kind of lapses by pilots because they have hundreds of passengers to whom they should never risk.”

“He [the pilot flying] was not asked to leave because he did anything by putting passengers at risk but what he did was he violated the company regulations on takeoff distance required by an aircraft, especially with the weight he was carrying on that aircraft.

“This is not particular to Qatar Airways. He would have been asked to leave post investigation in any other airline he would be working for, including I am sure at Qantas.”

But perhaps his most passionate comments were in response to a question about Qatari culture.

Australian trade unions have been protesting against the airline over its treatment of women and were outside the hotel where the media conference was being held. Unions also planned to hold another demonstration ahead of a Qatar function Al Baker is hosting on Thursday night in Sydney featuring invited guests, politicians, celebrities and a performance from Kylie Minogue.

Al Baker said Qatar the country was “conservative, but at the same time modern”.

“In my country you [women] can mix with men, you can swim in the same swimming pool, you can wear modern clothes – mini skirts – and also my country is not dry,” Al Baker said in response to a question.

“But at the same time like I have to respect traditions of Australia when I am in Australia, we also expect Westerners to come to my country also to respect the Islamic traditions of my country.

“Women have equal rights as men under the constitution of my country.

“I think that giving negative projections or negative reflections by certain trade unions that are not allowed in my country does not mean Qatar does not give equal rights to women.”

And although the MC, television personality Sally Obermeder, had started to wind up proceedings towards the end of the event, Al Baker intervened, saying he was happy to take questions until all had been asked.

Clearly, aviation’s Mr Controversy is happy to hold court, and court controversy wherever a microphone is present and there is a camera to look down.

Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker speaking at a media conference in Sydney. (Jordan Chong)
Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker speaking at a media conference in Sydney. (Jordan Chong)

Comments

  1. Keg says

    The pilots of the QFA1 over run at Bangkok were NOT sacked. Qantas looked at the systemic issues and used the accident to improve their culture. That’s what a mature and safety conscious airline does.

  2. Ani Hart says

    Conservative but modern – I don’t think. On a flight from Bahrain to Dubai via Qatar – I and others passengers stayed on board during the transit. Cleaners swarmed over the cabin cleaning it and suddenly a large female completely covered in black along with black gloves began menacing me with a rifle butt. I could not understand her but she was intent on doing me harm. I was completely covered – slacks, long sleeved shirt completely buttoned and a head scarf completely covering my hair and head. A cabin crew member came to my rescue telling me to look down at the floor and pull the scarf further over covering my face etc. I came to know that the menacing woman was the Morality Police. She said that my presence on board would ‘incite’ the Pakistani cleaners. Hell will freeze over before I fly/visit Qatar.

  3. Brian says

    Qatar B773 at Miami on Sep 15th 2015, overran runway on takeoff run and struck approach lights on departure.
    The Qantas accident in Bangkok was a landing accident in extremely bad weather and simply aquaplaned down the runway being unable to stop and came to rest on the adjoining golf course.
    Clearly two completely different types of accidents.