Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker used the handover of the Persian Gulf carrier’s newest plane to renew criticism of four other Arab states that have ostracized his country, saying the Saudi-led measures had “failed in every aspect.”
The Qatari flag-carrier plans to keep adding routes and aircraft and is looking at further investments in foreign airlines — even though it’s headed for an annual loss as a result of the trade embargo, Al Baker said in Toulouse, France, after taking delivery of the first Airbus SE A350-1000 jetliner.
“What was achieved by our adversaries in this blockade? Zero,” the CEO said. “They failed in intimidating our country, in putting us against the wall, trying to take over our sovereignty, trying to dictate our foreign policy, trying to dictate who our friends will be.”
Qatar Airways has substituted new routes for those it once flew to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, and is coping with extended flying times from diverting around restricted airspace, Al Baker said. There are no plans to cancel aircraft orders as a result of the limitations.
At the same time, Al Baker said there’s little prospect of the restrictions — imposed on June 5 amid claims that Qatar had funded Islamist terrorism — being lifted unless President Donald Trump leverages the “huge” U.S. financial and military stake in the region to force a settlement.
“The only progress that I see in this is President Trump coming in on the side of Qatar and making it very clear that this blockade should end,” Al Baker told Bloomberg Television. “We’re hoping that President Trump will impose enough pressure on our neighbors.”
Relations between state-owned Qatar Air and the U.S. may be improved by a concession two weeks ago that committed the carrier to increase financial transparency and desist from operating flights to America via third nations. The deal followed accusations of illegal state aid.
Al Baker said the agreement will have no impact on operations, and was aimed at appeasing American Airlines Group Inc., Delta Air Lines Inc. and United Continental Airlines Inc.
“The American carriers wanted to satisfy themselves with a memorandum of understanding, which was done, because my country is a friend and an ally and we don’t want anything to be disruptive,” he said. Qatar’s last so-called fifth freedom fight to the U.S., via Geneva, ended more than a decade ago.
Qatar Air has meanwhile reached a deal to lease excess Airbus A320 jets to partner airlines while it uses bigger planes that can carry the extra fuel needed to operate artificially lengthened flights, Al Baker said. He didn’t reveal where the planes will go, though Qatar has previously supplied A320s to British Airways, in which it holds a 20 percent stake.
–With assistance from David Westin
©2018 Bloomberg L.P.