At a press conference to celebrate Qatar Airways becoming the global launch customer for the new Airbus A350-1000, the airline’s chief executive, Akbar Al Baker certainly had some very interesting comments to share with the world – and not all were to do with the airline’s impressive new aircraft or much-acclaimed QSuite business class seat.
Baker is no stranger to controversy – a colourful figure in the aviation industry, the high profile executive has a habit of saying things that are sure to make headlines. You might remember that Baker was the man who drew ire from U.S. flight attendants with the insinuation that many were too old – going on to promote the young age of his airline’s own cabin crew.
This time, Baker has used his influence and the glitzy media event to bring attention to a political rift between Qatar and a Saudi Arabian led bloc of countries including the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt. Last year, the bloc imposed sanctions on Qatar over claims the small Gulf state promoted terrorism.
As Qatar has failed to fall in line with Saudi Arabia’s list of demands, a ‘blockade’ of sorts has continued – Qatar Airways aircraft are effectively banned from using the airspace of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain. The airline has also been ‘thrown out’ of these countries – what were once important markets for Qatar Airways.
We’ve written before about how the airline has focused its efforts on opening new routes to make up for the impact the Gulf blockade is having on its business and Baker himself said it was likely his airline would make a loss for 2017 due to the dispute.
But at the A350 press conference, Baker asks: “What was achieved by our adversaries?”
“Zero” he replies. “They failed in intimidating my country. Putting us against the wall. trying to take over our sovereignty and to dictate our foreign policy. Trying to dictate who our friends should be. In every single aspect, they failed.”
So what has been the effect of the blockade? Baker claims:
“They made Qatar more independent. More resilient. More robust. And most importantly, we have our confidence in our ruler’s ability to rule and be better than anybody in our neighbourhood.”
Explaining his rationale for making such comments, Baker said he was being a spokesperson for his fellow Qatari citizens.
And what about the future?
“We will sustain as long as it is there (the blockade)…” Baker explains, saying “Qatar Airways is not going to slow down.”