When it comes to challenges facing the airline industry, inflation, fuel prices and labor shortages take a backseat to politics, according to the CEO of the state-owned airline of Qatar.
“The biggest challenge to the industry, of course, is political upheaval,” Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker told an audience at the IATA World Financial Symposium in Doha. Al Baker is also Secretary-General of Qatar Tourism.
The annual event is produced by the International Air Transport Association, a trade association of the world’s airlines founded in 1945.
As part of the same panel discussion on Tuesday, Al Baker also said that the Covid pandemic was “the biggest challenge to aviation in our living memory,” before running through a litany of other obstacles. “And then there is the oil price, then there is shortage of manpower, there is no investment because of the the climate issues that is happening in the world in infrastructure,” he said.
Al Baker was most pointed in his criticism about restrictions imposed upon airlines in the name of climate change. “And then governments unnecessarily putting restrictions on aviation to sustain political gains in many of the countries around the world, to show that they are looking after the environment and that aviation is the biggest emitter of CO2, misleading the public who depend so much on aviation for trade, for tourism, for sustaining jobs,” he said.
That opinion appears to be far out of step with the zeitgeist of the event. “As the path to recovery lies ahead, our commitment to sustainability is immutable,” says the event’s website. “Our goal – Fly Net Zero – to achieve net zero carbon by 2050, will require an industry wide and collaborative effort. As part of this effort, CFOs will have a key role to play.”
In fact, the issue of sustainability looms large across the four-day event, where sessions include: “Transitioning to CO2 Emissions By 2050,” “ESG (Environmental Social and Governance) Reports: Sustainability in Word and Act” and “Shaping a Sustainable Future Together — What Are Our Industry Priorities for 2022.”
Al Baker has never shied away from controversy. In 2015, Qatar Airways was forced to loosen its policy on marriage and pregnancy following a report from the International Labor Organization that found discrimination. The airline’s flight attendants can now get married as long as they notify the company, and pregnant women are now provided temporary ground jobs instead of getting fired.
In 2017, in a speech given in Ireland, Al Baker said US airlines were “crap” and passengers were “served by grandmothers,” in a dig at older flight attendants. He noted that the average age of Qatar Airways cabin crew was 26.
In 2018, Al Baker told reporters that “of course” Qatar Airways must be led by a man “because it is a very challenging position,” later claiming that he was joking.
The Qatari national airline, headquartered in the Qatar Airways Tower in Doha, has a fleet of more than 200 aircraft and flies to over 150 international destinations across Africa, Asia, Europe, the Americas and Oceania.
In June, Qatar Airways reported a significant rise in annual revenues to $14.4 billion, as it continues to rebuild after it saw its business decline in the first years of the Covid-19 pandemic.