Aviation News

May 18, 2016

Akbar Al Baker Touts Qatar’s Upcoming Service to Atlanta

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Written by: Brian Stevenson
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On a day as grey as their paint scheme, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker held a press conference at the St. Regis Hotel in Atlanta ahead of his airline’s inaugural flight between Doha and Atlanta. The new service, which will utilize the  777-200LR, kicks off on June 1st with the inaugural flight which being operated by one of their Airbus A380 aircraft.

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker

Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker

Speaking of elephants, the elephant in this room of course is the war or words between Mr. Al Baker and recently retired Delta’s Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson, and in general, the larger encroachment of the “Mid East 3” airlines of which Qatar Airways is a part along with Emirates and Etihad. It was one of the first and last questions Mr. Al Baker addressed, claiming that he believed the US Department of Transportation will side in their favor over Delta, American, and United, who have requested an investigation into whether Qatar has violated the “Open Skies” international agreement by receiving government subsidies to the point where they do not need to operate on a profit.

He also attempted to discredit Delta’s claim of low load factors on the ATL service by stating that the first flight, again on the Airbus Super Jumbo, was oversold by 27 passenger and future load factors are above 70%. Now you may be wondering how that translates into yield and profit…but let’s just move on.

Mr. Al Baker showed his competitive streak, and desire to  “cause pain” to his rivals Lufthansa and Air France, by opening up numerous cities in Europe utilizing Qatar’s newly acquired Airbus A320NEO aircraft. Over the course of the press conference, Al Baker implied that Delta is behind the recent negative publicity Qatar has received in the Atlanta area over treatment of his airline’s flight crews and use of labor, and frequently claimed his airline’s superiority in terms of product, while making it clear, after the introductory fares are gone that customers “will have to pay”, a philosophy that has not received much success with the general American flying public. A question regarding if Qatar received any incentives such as waived fees from Atlanta airport seemed to surprise the CEO and was quickly dodged.

 

On the subject of his airline’s ‘superiority’, the question was asked if Qatar was reconsidering offering a premium economy product since their ‘Mid East 3’ buddy Emirates is rumored to be, and Delta already offers that type of product. Mr. Al Baker was quick to shut that down with his logic that Qatar’s basic economy product was already better than that of other carriers.

Having flown both a Qatar 777 and a Delta 777 on long haul flights in economy recently, an apples to apples comparison in this writers’ experience showed that to not be the case. The products were quite evenly matched and differences negligible or a case of personal preference.

But if I was a CEO of an airline, I’m sure I’d be its #1 cheerleader, cutting down the competition, and taking any advantages I can get as well.

Brian Stevenson is an Atlanta-based airline enthusiast and aviation photographer. His work can be seen on Facebook.



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