Interview with Akbar Al Baker

By: Editor In Chief
    
Sun 27 March,2016

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Al-Baker became Chief Executive Officer of Qatar Airways in 1997




Filed Under: Airline & Travel

Al-Baker became Chief Executive Officer of Qatar Airways in 1997. Prior to this appointment, he worked at the Civil Aviation Directorate of Qatar. He is also the former Chairman of the Qatar Tourism Authority. He is CEO of several divisions of Qatar's national airline, including Qatar Executive, Qatar Airways Holidays, Qatar Aviation Services, Qatar Duty Free Company, Doha International Airport, Internal Media Services, Qatar Distribution Company, Qatar Aircraft Catering Company and a member of the Board of Governors of IATA (International Air Transport Association).

Qatar Airways Company Q.C.S.C. operating as Qatar Airways, is the state-owned flag carrier of Qatar. Headquartered in the Qatar Airways Tower in Doha, the airline operates a hub-and-spoke network, linking over 140 international destinations across Africa, Central Asia, Europe, Far East, South Asia, Middle East, North America, South America and Oceania from its base at Hamad International Airport, using a fleet of more than 150 aircraft.

Qatar Airways Group employs more than 31,000 people, of which 19,000 work directly for Qatar Airways. The carrier has been a member of the Oneworld alliance since October 2013, the first Gulf carrier to sign with one of the three airline alliances.

Your excellency, thank you so much for joining us, Qatar Airways just took delivery of their 25th Dreamliner, what else are you looking to buy at this airshow?

Unfortunately we're buying anything during this airshow, we have done all of our shopping and the last one was very recently in the Le Bourget, we need a little bit breathing space, when we are ready hopefully by Farnborough, maybe we have something to talk about

Talk to me a little bit about the push back you're getting from some European carriers, they say that you're colluding even with the European Commission. How do you respond to that?

You know this is always a story of crying wolf. They are afraid of competition, I have repeated on this many times, and I just don't want to dwell upon it. The only thing is that they cannot stand up and be counted like we do, we give them a very tough competition, we give their customers a very good value for money, we have product that is of a very high standard and at the very same time, fortunately, we do not have unions that control how we run our business, a simple as that.

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What are you very excited about that's coming up next for Qatar Airways?

There is always something exciting coming up about Qatar Airways. You know that we have just recently finished our new hub. We have just the last week opened the world's best first class lounge, we hope also very soon to unveil the world's best premium product in the airplane, so all this is very exciting for Qatar Airways, you know we are always raising the bar for other airlines. Keeping in mind that we were the first airliner after British Airways to have a horizontal flat seat in first class, we were the first airliner to have lie flat seats after British Airways. We introduced all this in 2001 and 2002 and our competitors only started introducing from 2005 onwards, we always innovate products that everybody copies but we have become smarter this time as we are developing a new premium product we are getting it IP'd so that nobody can copy the design or the ideas that we are introducing in our future airplanes

Talk to me a little bit about not just innovation but costs as well. What are the biggest costs to running the airline? Is it oil?

Definitely fuel constitutes the largest single part of the airlines' cost and we are now very fortunate that the oil prices are dropping, but I don't think that this honeymoon will last very long, I'm sure that as the world economy starts developing, that the oil price will start rising again

And in terms of your revenues, 25-30% of your revenues are from cargo traffic, are they not?

Yes, 25 percent of my revenue between 24 and 25 percent of my total revenue comes from cargo and we are trying to enhance this even further. I'm sure you know that Qatar Airways is now the number three largest cargo carrier in the world and it is a very exciting news for us

And then in terms of in flight entertainment systems, you've said they're very heavy and that they're not going to be around for that much longer. What do you see replacing the in-flight entertainment system?

Well the connectivity that is being developed for the airlines, especially the K-U and K-A band and more powerful satellites will encourage airlines like Qatar Airways to introduce systems in an aeroplane which will do away with this IFE, and will concentrate with people bringing their own tablets and connecting with the systems we have to get even a larger content than we currently provide to our passengers

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That's bad news for a lot of your suppliers, isn't it?

Well I don't care if it is bad news for suppliers, as long as it is good news for my airline to shed more weight and in turn have less fuel burn and then in turn have less C02 emissions

Talk to me a little bit about the geopolitics because certainly we've seen several airlines re-routing flights not just around Syria, but more recently around the Sinai. How does that impact your bottom line?

Well diverting aircraft away from Sinai will not make really a very large impact on airlines, as a matter of fact we still fly a lot over Egypt and we will continue to fly over Egypt, we were not flying very much on Sinai anyway except two flight that was going to Cyprus and to Lebanon. But I'm sure that as the investigation progresses, things will be more clear and that the airspace over Sinai will open up again.

And in terms of the communication between different airlines. We spoke earlier with Emirates President Tim Clark, he was talking about how important it is that airlines communicate in terms of the security situation. How is Qatar Airways working with other airlines?

I don't want to divulge confidential discussions we had with our other airline partners, and our other colleagues, but yes Qatar Airways very actively exchanges and provides information whenever we see that any of us is in a situation which needs us to alert the others

So in terms of the regional turmoil you don't really see that impacting Qatar Airways?

I don't think so, whatever impact had to happen has already happened and I don't think it will get any worse. But our biggest threat to day for us is pilferage inside airplanes, this is a new phenomenon which at Qatar Airways we discovered around a year ago and now we are providing our fellow colleagues in the region and our airline partners about this growing security issue where passengers are travelling from point a to point b and then going through passengers baggage in the bins and pilferaging valuable items and money.

So that's happening in flight?

That is happening in flight and this phenomenon we discovered around a year ago and mostly it is from a certain country that we have been able to apprehend large number of individuals.

And so you're doing that using security cameras or more surveillance?

No we are not doing that, but what we are doing is warning passengers are part of our PA and passenger announcements and training our crew to be very vigilant on flights especially on night time flights when the cabin lights are dimmed

And finally, amongst your airline colleagues, you're known as, rather the John McEnroe of aviation. Certainly you're a favourite with the press. How do you respond to that?

I prefer not to be John McEnroe, because I'm not an actor. I am an individual that believes in delivering the economic interests of my country. And yes I like to be very frank, I don't like to be a diplomat. I think press and the general public should know exactly from the head of an airline what our business is about and what we do.

Your excellence, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Thank you




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