Qatar Airways has today revealed that its outspoken and larger than life chief executive, Akbar Al Baker will take over the helm of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) – One of the aviation’s most prestigious organisations. His one year tenure as the Chairman of the Board of Governors will start in June 2018, taking over from Goh Choon Phong, the chief executive of Singapore Airways.
Although largely ceremonial, the message this choice represents shouldn’t be underestimated. Baker has been elected by his peers – fellow airline executives of the highest calibre from around the world. This appointment comes after Qatar Airways has come under enormous strain from the blockading of airspace to its aircraft by Saudi Arabia, along with the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.
In these circumstances, it’s hard to imagine how the new choice of Chairman was anything but tactical – Sending out a clear message to the Saudi Arabian-bloc of countries that air transport should be free from international politics. In fact, one of IATA’s key missions is to “challenge unreasonable rules and charges” and “hold regulators and governments to account.”
“Nothing should stand in the way of aviation – the business of freedom”
Speaking at the annual IATA shindig in June, here’s what the Director General, Alexandre de Juniac said about the forces acting against aviation: “Nothing should stand in the way of aviation—the business of freedom. Aviation is globalization at its very best. But to deliver aviation’s many benefits we need borders that are open to people and trade.”
And there was more: “Today we face headwinds from those who would deny the benefits of globalization and point us in the direction of protectionism. This is a threat to our industry. We must bear witness to the achievements of our connected world. And we must ensure the benefits of aviation for future generations.”
So what does IATA do?
Here’s the thing – IATA is actually a big deal. The organisation represents over 275 airline’s in around 120 countries worldwide. That’s about 85% of all scheduled air traffic across the globe. When IATA draws up a policy, a new way of working or a set or rules, all of those airline’s have to comply with it. Essentially, IATA creates the gold standard of civil aviation.
Here’s an example: Resolution 753 was drawn up by IATA in 2016 – it requires every member airline to be able to track luggage from the start of a journey all the way to the end. It should (hopefully) mean the end of lost luggage. Airlines have until next year to put processes in place to make them compliant. Qatar Airways was the first airline to be certified and American Airlines has recently passed the test as well. Many other airlines still have some way to go.
Qatar Airways CEO speaks about his appointment
Speaking of his appointment, Akbar Al Baker commented: “For more than two decades I have lived and breathed aviation, and I look forward to working alongside the Board of Governors to champion passenger rights and improve security standards across the industry, as well as continuing to promote the rights of freedom of flight for all.”
He described the aviation industry as having to face “numerous challenges on a multitude of levels” – not only the protectionism of individual governments (think of the effect that the so called U.S. ‘Muslim Ban’ had on air travel) but also the increased risk of terrorism and improving safety standards around the world.
Qatar Airways rather modestly described its chief executive as one of the “most recognisable figures in international aviation.” Baker joined the airline in 1997 and has propelled it into a household name – now synonymous with luxury and premium air travel. In little over 12 years, Qatar Airways has grown to a fleet of 200 aircraft, flying to over 150 destinations worldwide. In June, the airline was named as Skytrax Airline of the Year 2017.