Qatar Airways Ltd.’s chief executive officer remained true to his professed mantra that “no air show is complete without some controversy,” lashing out at U.S. rivals — and an ally — he says are obstructing his expansion plans.
At a signing ceremony with Boeing Co. at the Paris Air Show, Akbar Al Baker said a purchase of 777 airliners should remind critics that Qatar Air is creating jobs in the U.S. He went on to threaten an exit from the Oneworld alliance that Qatar joined less than two years ago should a dispute that includes fellow member American Airlines Group Inc. drag on.
“If we find we can not find a settlement to this contentious issue we will exit,” Al Baker told journalists in Paris on Monday, adding that Oneworld risks losing the “spirit” in which Qatar Airways joined the group.
The tussle between U.S. airlines and counterparts in the Gulf has escalated in recent months, with American, Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Continental Holdings Inc. asking the U.S. to reopen aviation-treaty talks with United Arab Emirates and Qatar on grounds that Emirates, Etihad Airways PJSC and Qatar Air get improper government subsidies. That’s an accusation that the three major Gulf carriers reject.
Al Baker, who was flanked by two ministers from Qatar during the signing ceremony with Chicago-based Boeing, has a reputation as a tough-talking executive, ridiculing manufacturers in public over the perceived shortcomings of their products and shooting back at airline rivals who have accused his company of murky accounting.
While American Air has been vocal in highlighting the impact of Gulf hubs on U.S. carriers, British Airways owner IAG SA — another leading member of Oneworld — has stood apart from European peers in defending Mideast operators’ strategies. Qatar owns a 10 percent stake in the London-based company.
The Qatar Air accord signed in Paris was for 10 additional 777-8X widebodies and four 777 freighters. Al Baker said he wants to be the first customer to receive the Boeing passenger jet, which will help serve ultra long-haul routes.
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