29 OCTOBER 2012

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Article from BTNews 29 OCTOBER 2012

ON THE SOAPBOX: Akbar Al Baker Chairman of Qatar Airways

 

Akbar Al-Baker became Chief Executive Officer of Qatar Airways in 1997. Prior to his appointment he worked at the Civil Aviation Directorate of Qatar.  He  holds a degree in Economics and Commerce.

"Just two weeks ago I was delighted to fulfil a request to address the Aviation Club of the United Kingdom at the splendid London home of the Institute of Directors. 

In fact this is the second time that I have been asked to hold forth to members.  When I first spoke, back in 2004 Qatar Airways operated 33 aircraft.  Today the number is 112 with 200 on order worth more than US$50bn.  Together with its subsidiaries Qatar Airways employs 20,000 staff.  We seem to be attracting invitations.  I was recently voted to join the board of IATA, a great personal honour, and Qatar Airways itself asked by oneworld to become a member.  We must be doing something right.

I would like to think of myself as something of an anglophile.  I was born in Qatar but educated in Bombay (Mumbai) at a British-style boarding school.  People that know me are aware that I only say what I believe in.

London has always been a very important destination for us and we now have five non-stop flights a day to Doha, and the best airport lounge at Heathrow.

I have followed with much interest the debate regarding capacity constraints in the UK.

I see the wheels are in motion once again on the whole South East airport issue with yet another government review underway.  Too much talking will only lead to one thing – compounding the problem, not solving it.

Heathrow is already losing out to European neighbours that have the resource to expand capacity.

And of course in the Gulf we have ample space.  We are already witnessing strong long haul traffic flows between Asia and The Americas by-passing Heathrow.
I won’t mince words, but without solving these problems now, I can only envisage a catastrophic situation for UK Plc.

You have just about managed to retreat from a double dip recession, but the UK cannot afford to dig its own grave and lose out on the tremendous opportunities being presented on a plate.  It is clear that without no immediate investment in an industry that continues to experience demand outstripping supply the inevitability is failure.

The UK Government needs to tackle this head on.

No aviation capacity increase will inevitably lead to further economic hardship with job losses and businesses closing down.

Heathrow is bursting at the seams and, in my opinion, has reached a critical point.  The Government cannot afford to immerse itself in long-winded debate and public enquiries. 

While the proposed Boris Island in Kent is a good idea, this is a project that will potentially take at least 20 years to materialise if the go-ahead is given today.

Can the UK wait 20 years?  During this period we will see airports expanding significantly across the Continent and of course in my region. UK Plc can ill afford this potential massive economic loss.

A third runway at Heathrow is therefore NOT an option, it is a necessity.  The infrastructure is already there.  It only needs reshaping.

The British Government must push through measures to prevent airlines from shifting their operations for the good of the country and to safeguard jobs and livelihoods.

Qatar Airways would love to further increase capacity at Heathrow.

Right now we are bilaterally constrained at Heathrow.  But even if we were able to secure the extra flights, there is the small issue of slots.  Hard to get as you know!

Poor slots mean poor connections both at Heathrow and our Doha hub.  As we prepare to move to a brand new airport next year the opportunities that will present themselves are enormous.

Wider choice of 24-hour flight banks and more travel options.

But to really take full advantage of our new home, we need more services from places like London to cater to the demand.  Heathrow is a magnet that cannot be ignored.

I see the seeds of this Government realising the importance of aviation.  This shift of interest is vital and must be accelerated.  Otherwise it is too late".

AKBAR AL BAKER

 

 

 

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