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Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker Qatar is losing his patience with Oneworld and said his airline could leave the alliance “soon.”
Asked whether an exit from the alliance could take place this year after giving Oneworld what he characterized as an “ultimatum,” Al Baker said: “I don’t know. We will wait and see what happens.”
Speaking with the press at the Peninsula Hotel in Manhattan Thursday, Al Baker said he’s tired of the “bad feelings” that American Airlines has stirred, and he’s worried of the obstructionist efforts that alliance member Qantas is carrying out on behalf of Emirates in Australia.
He noted with irony that American Airlines and British Airways were the entities that invited Qatar into the alliance in the first place.
Al Baker said that Qatar Airways is pursuing its own strategy, having taken 20 percent ownership of British Airways parent IAG, and investing in Latam and Air Italy, among others.
As for obstructionist efforts by Qantas and American, which sought to end Qatar’s open skies agreement with the U.S., he said, “what is then the point in being in Oneworld?”
Airline alliances are supposed to involve interlining, sharing lounges, and reciprocal redeeming and burning miles, Al Baker said. “This is not happening on the American Airlines side,” he said, adding that American is spreading rumors about Qatar in order to restrict its growth.
In other news, Al Baker said he believes his airline, which is government-owned, will privatize sometime in the next decade. He argued that Lufthansa and Swiss were once government-owned, and that Qatar, as a relatively “new” airline, has the right to be government owned for a period, as well.
Reacting to the allegations by the three biggest U.S. legacy carriers that Qatar was unfairly taking government subsidies, Al Baker said that Qatar is not government-subsidized but government-owned, and that his government has the right to invest in the carrier.
Al Baker also said he’s interested in investing in a U.S. airline, but “we don’t want to rock the boat. Any stable CEO of any airline would want to invest in the U.S.”
Asked about the current controversy with Saudi Arabia, which is accused of murdering a Washington Post columnist and last year, with the United Arab Emirates, began a blockade of Qatar, Al Baker said, Qatar doesn’t want to benefit from the “demise of a poor journalist.”
Al Baker claimed the airline is in an improved position in the aftermath of the Saudi Arabia-led blockade, which led to an almost immediate 21 percent cut in capacity when it went into effect in June 2017. He said the airline’s losses were projected to be $1 billion at the time, but it finished the fiscal year with a “minimal loss.”
“As far as I ‘m concerned, after the blockade, we have benefited,” Al Baker said.
That is not exactly the whole story, however. Al Baker acknowledged as much, noting that U.S. President Donald Trump has said publicly that the blockade should end as soon as possible.
The airline, meanwhile, is launching three new destinations in December — Gothenburg, Sweden; Mombasa, India; and Da Nang, Vietnam.
The Qatar Air CEO claimed he isn’t concerned about speculation of an Emirates-Etihad merger. “We are competing with them anyway,” Al Baker said.
However, that downplays the fact that a merger could make them stronger.
The beginning of Al Baker’s presentation was geared to show the airline’s contribution to the U.S. economy to counter U.S. legacy carriers’ claims that Gulf carriers operations in the U.S. hurt American businesses and workers. Al Baker said Qatar Airways pumps some $4 billion into the U.S. economy annually, and that more than half of its 332 aircraft in operation or on order are American-manufactured from Boeing.
Al Baker quipped, though, that Qatar will begin flying the Airbus A350-1000 into New York’s JFK starting next week, adding he’s unsure how Boeing feels about that. He said Qatar is the first to fly that model into the United States.