It all started so promisingly for Akbar Al Bakar.
The sometimes volatile Qatar Airways chief executive, having officially been voted in as chairman of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) board of governors, pledged to be on his best behaviour during the one-year appointment.
“Here, I will make sure that I put all my endeavours to serve the international aviation community to the best of my ability,” Al Baker told reporters at the IATA annual general meeting closing media conference in Sydney on Tuesday.
“And most importantly, to try to control controversial statements made by me.
“I will make sure that I play a very constructive role looking at the best interests of not only the airlines of this great association but also the people that have made this industry so successful.”
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce, sitting alongside Al Baker, wished his counterpart luck.
It started off well enough, with Al Baker highlighting human trafficking, security, the rising cost of fuel and remaining vigilant amid the threat of terrorism and regional conflicts as some of the key priorities for the airline industry in the year ahead.
However, some 10 minutes into the media conference, things came unstuck for Al Baker, who has perviously described himself as a “very controversial figure in the aviation industry”.
In response to a question for Al Baker, Joyce and IATA boss Alexandre de Juniac about efforts to increase the proportion of women in the aviation industry, Al Baker began his answer saying “it was not at Qatar Airways”.
But when the questioner put it to Al Baker that Qatar Airways was being run by a male chief executive he responded by saying: “Of course it has to be led by a man because it is a very challenging position.”
The comment, which appeared to be a somewhat tone-death and ill-advised attempt at humour on a topic that has been debated at length during the AGM, drew a chorus of gasps and some boos from the assembled media.
A smiling Joyce sitting alongside said: “Akbar said he was going to stop saying controversial things. He lasted 10 minutes. Ten minutes. Sorry Akbar”.
When the reaction had subsided, Al Baker took the opportunity to give a more considered response to the issue.
“In QR we also have a very large number of females that work, in excess of 33 per cent,” Al Baker said.
“We were first airline in our region to have women pilots, we have a big program and more than 60 per cent of my scholarships for pilots are women.
“We have a large number of women engineers, we have pilots, we even have women in senior vice president levels in the airline.
“So we actually encourage women and we see that they have huge potential in doing senior management positions.”
And all that work deserves to be recognised. Unfortunately, his second, more thoughtful attempt at an answer is more than likely to be drowned out by a moment of poor judgement.
IATA members approve resolutions on fighting human trafficking and caution of airport privatisation
Meanwhile, in other events on the final day of the AGM, IATA’s member airlines unanimously approved a resolution that denounced trafficking in persons and committed to a number of actions related to anti-trafficking initiatives.
These included the sharing of best practices among airlines, more training for operational staff to identify potential trafficking situations and pushing government authorities to establish clear, practical and discreet mechanisms for the reporting of potential trafficking activity in the air transport system.
Another resolution called on national governments to take a cautious approach on privatising airports, instead encouraging governments to “prioritise the long-term economic and social benefits delivered by an effective airport ahead of the short-term financial gains provided by a poorly thought-out privatisation”.
“We are in an infrastructure crisis,” de Juniac said in his closing remarks at the AGM.
“Cash-strapped governments are looking to the private sector to help develop much needed airport capacity. But it is wrong to assume that the private sector has all the answers.
“Airlines have not yet experienced an airport privatization that has fully lived up to its promised benefits over the long term.”
And finally, IATA’s member airlines unanimously approved Korean Air’s invitation to host the 75th annual general meeting in Seoul, South Korea, which will be held on June 2-4 2019. It will be the first time the event has been to the South Korean capital.
— Australian Aviation (@AusAviation) June 5, 2018