Qatar Airways' Akbar Al Baker has been one of the most outspoken CEOs in the industry.
In a surprise announcement Monday, Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker said that he is resigning from the airline, effective November 5. Al-Baker was appointed the CEO of Qatar Airways when it was founded in 1997 and has been at the forefront of building a world-class and innovative airline. Qatar Airways confirmed the resignation in a press release.
Al Baker was also CEO of group companies, such as Qatar Executive and Hamad International Airport. Under his stewardship, the airline, which started with just five aircraft in 1996, has grown to 258 aircraft.
In his note to employees, Al Baker wrote: “After 27 years of service, I am writing to you to announce that I will step down from the Qatar Airways Group. In 1996, with a fleet of just five aircraft, unwavering dedication, and a loyal and passionate team, together we embarked on a remarkable journey to aviation excellence. From that very first day, our journey has been nothing short of extraordinary.”
Badr Mohammed al Meer, who is currently the Chief Operating Officer of Hamad International Airport at Doha, will take over as the new Group CEO of the airline.
Al Baker’s Vision
With a population of half a million people and an area of approximately 4,500 square miles, Qatar did not have a home market large enough to have an airline of scale. However, it did have a favorable geographical location and visionary leadership that wanted to lessen the country’s dependence on oil and natural gas.
Qatar Airways started operating as a regional carrier in 1994. It was relaunched in 1997 under the mandate of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, who wanted the airline to be transformed into a leading international airline.
The airline operates one of the youngest fleets globally and is one of the fastest-growing airlines worldwide. The airline, under Al Baker, was at the forefront of adopting new aircraft – it was the global launch customer for both variants of the Airbus A350 aircraft.
Qatar Airways also launched the QSuite under Al Baker, a business-class product with privacy doors. Among other unique features, QSuites offered the ability to seat a group of up to four people across each other in a private environment on a commercial jet. Al-Baker claimed the product was so good that no one would need to fly first class anymore. The product was marketed as “First in Business”.
Recognizing the need for corporate jets, Qatar Airways has a 19-aircraft fleet of executive jets and is the largest owner-operator of the Gulfstream G650ER globally.
Qatar Airways’ Strong Network
Passenger experience was not the only priority for Qatar Airways under Al Baker. The airline grew its circle of influence by buying stakes in other airlines. Qatar Airways owns a significant stake in China Southern Airlines, International Airlines Group (owner of British Airways), Cathay Pacific, RwandAir and LATAM Airlines Group.
Al Baker depended on these relationships to maintain the capacity of Qatar Airways during the supply chain crisis, calling upon Cathay Pacific and LATAM when the airline needed extra capacity.
Al Baker did what he had to do to raise the profile of Qatar Airways and generate business for the airline. With Etihad having big ambitions back in the day and Emirates already building a large super-connector operation out of Dubai, Qatar Airways went ahead and joined Oneworld in 2013, becoming the only one of the big ME3 airlines to join an airline alliance to date.
Driving Force Behind Hamad International Airport
Al Baker was also the driving force behind the launch of Hamad International Airport, which has been the hub of Qatar Airways since 2014. The airline used to operate from the Doha International Airport.
During the first half of 2023, the airport experienced a 33.5% increase in passenger traffic, welcoming over 20 million passengers to the facility. The airport is currently working on expanding the capacity of the airport to 70 million passengers annually.
Al Baker was known for speaking his mind. In 2018, after being elected as the chairman of the International Air Transport Association, he was asked about the lack of female leadership at his airline and replied: “Of course it has to be led by a man because it is a very challenging position.” He later apologized for his statement and said that Qatar Airways was committed to gender equality.
Under his stewardship, Qatar Airways sued Airbus in the High Court of London for billions of dollars in compensation over chipped paint on the A350 aircraft, which exposed the copper mesh. Qatar claimed it was a safety issue, proceeding to ground its A350 fleet. Both sides later settled the case without trial, but not before Airbus canceled some outstanding orders for the airline.
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Photo credit: Akbar Al Baker is stepping down as CEO of Qatar Airways. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) / Flickr