Qatar Airways boss tells European carriers ‘belt up’

Qatar Airways boss Akbar al Baker has dismissed claims that the booming Gulf carriers benefit from government backing. Al Baker called such allegations “bullshit”.

The Qatar Airways chief executive instead accused leading European carriers of being “frightened” of his airline and local rivals Emirates and Etihad Airways.

Addressing the Guild of Travel Management Companies’ (GTMC) conference in Doha, al Baker rejected a suggestion by Lufthansa chairman Christoph Franz that European airlines are handicapped by government policies in a way Gulf carriers are not.

Al Baker said: “The chief of a European carrier commented that Gulf carriers have only sand and a box of money. We do have a box of money, but not only sand.

“This message should be heard by Christoph Franz…The Gulf has shifted the goal posts for the world. Others are unable to control their spiralling costs. Others cut capacity and service levels while we do the opposite.

“We are here to stay. Our message to the legacy carriers, to our adversaries, is ‘belt up’.”

He said: “Our friends in Germany and France have lobbied their governments to restrict Gulf carriers. They have begun to lobby the governments of their neighbours. This only shows weakness. They are frightened.

“Our region has progressed fairly and squarely. Their concern comes from fear. It is bullshit. Unable to face up to us, they try to squeeze us out through protectionism. Governments have sought means to penalise airlines and customers with taxes. It is nothing but jealousy and a failure to recognise the world as it is.”

Al Baker added: “We have been villified by the big carriers while they want us to be part of their global interline strategies.”

However, al Baker praised International Airlines Group chief executive Willie Walsh, saying: “I was heartened to hear my friend Willie Walsh give his European neighbours a slap.”

Walsh has described the Middle East carriers as “an example of what can be done”. Al Baker said: “I respect what Willie Walsh has done for British Airways in facing down the unions. He does not badmouth the opposition.”

Responding to al Baker, Lufthansa UK general manager Christian Schindler said: “Aviation is part of overall economic development in the Gulf.

“A lot of factors come together – the way business is structured, the fact there are no low-cost carriers. The carriers [in the Gulf] are seen as part of a bigger development plan. In Europe, airlines are seen as a burden or to be squeezed with taxes and charges. We have a problem with this all over Europe.”

Qatar Airways has increased its fleet from 57 aircraft in 2007, when al Baker last spoke at a GTMC conference, to 109 this year. Al Baker told the GTMC: “Regardless of recession, regardless of a global economic downturn, we will grow.”

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