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Akbar Al-Baker

QATAR - Transport

World’s Five-Star Airline

CEO, Qatar Airways


Born in Doha, Akbar Al Baker is a graduate in Economics and Commerce and worked in the Civil Aviation Directorate before becoming Qatar Airways’ CEO in 1997. Mr. Al Baker has spearheaded the growth of the airline, which currently flies more than 125 aircraft to over 125 destinations across six continents from its hub in Doha, capital of the State of Qatar. He is also leading the development of Hamad International Airport, which is scheduled to open in phases from the fourth quarter of 2013. Mr. Al Baker is a member of the Executive Committee of the Arab Air Carriers Organization (AACO), a member of the Board of Governors of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), and is a non-executive Director of Heathrow Airport Holdings. Mr. Al Baker also holds a private pilot’s license.

"Hamad International Airport will be one of the most modern, sophisticated, and passenger-friendly airports in the world."

How has Qatar Airways normalized since the return of the Dreamliner to the skies?

It is still not normalized, as the aircraft were grounded for such a long time that we had to retrain all of our cabin crew and pilots. Qatar Airways had not been operating the Boeing 787 for a long time before that, so the experience of the crew was such that we could not put them back on board without retraining. It has also caused a lot of disruption, vis-í -vis our expansion plans, our network, and the planned increase of frequencies to current destinations. In the first month alone, we had to downgrade 2,500 flights, and we had to delay four new destinations because of a lack of aircraft. We were also affected by the fact that other 787 deliveries did not take place. There was a huge capacity shortage.

How will Qatar Airways’ new cargo fleet help position it as one of the leading cargo carriers in the Middle East, and internationally?

We want to be a major player in the cargo business. We will have a large fleet of Boeing 777-200 freighters, and we are also looking at a substantial number of feeder aircraft, which will either be the traditional Boeing 777 or Airbus 330 freighters. We are now in the process of taking on one more aircraft, which is being delivered from Seattle in the coming days.

“Hamad International Airport will be one of the most modern, sophisticated, and passenger-friendly airports in the world.”

Qatar Airways was a pioneer in being one of the first Gulf airlines to join an alliance. Why was oneworld chosen?

We received an invitation from oneworld, and we accepted it graciously. We fit very well into the oneworld alliance, and the alliance provides us with the right type of exposure for expanding our network. We feel that oneworld is the most flexible and most liberal of alliances. We, as part of oneworld, will still be able to codeshare with airlines outside of the alliance, and this is something that is not permitted with the other alliances.

What percentage of your passengers use Doha as a hub, and how will the new Hamad International Airport cement Qatar’s role?

Currently, 70% of our passengers use Doha as a hub. This will decrease as Qatar’s tourist infrastructure develops. Hamad International Airport will be one of the most modern, sophisticated, and passenger-friendly airports in the world. The passenger experience will be second to none. It will offer world-class duty-free shops, a five-star hotel within the building, as well as a spa and other facilities. Hamad International Airport is the first airport that has been designed by an airline. We will also have the best selection of restaurants, airport lounges, duty-free areas, spas, hotels, and a swimming pool.

What steps is Qatar Airways taking to differentiate itself from an increasingly competitive market?

The answer is simple: we are the only five-star rated airline in the region.

What regions are you specifically focusing on for further expansion of Qatar Airways?

We are focusing on all the regions of the world. We are going to expand in North and South Americas, Africa, the Asian subcontinent, and also Southeast Asia and Europe.

What are your medium-term strategic plans, goals, and visions for Qatar Airways?

My first priority is to get Hamad International Airport up and running. My second priority is to fulfill the network expansion that I have in mind over the course of the next three years. My third priority is to satisfy the economic needs of my country by keeping Qatar Airways at the top of the airline league.

With all of this large-scale, rapid expansion in a short time, and other plans for the future, what is the secret of your success?

The secret is very simple; we are absolutely focused on where we want to be, and everybody works in that direction. There is nobody that pulls in the opposite direction; everybody follows the same strategy, and this comes from the top. If everybody works together in this way, you can make decisive gains and be successful as a business.

© The Business Year – June 2013



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