18 JANUARY 2016


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Article from BTNews 18 JANUARY 2016

COMMENT: 'The Times' and air transport

One known as  'The Thunderer'  and founded in 1785  The Times  has had in general a good relationship with the air transport industry, perhaps less so with the picture desk which occasionally has a mind of its own (The Times sometimes carries images within the newspaper without any story connection, all beyond the reasoning of this simple journalist).

Rob Lea, from the Business Desk, last Saturday produced a most interesting story on the relationship between Qatar Airways and its partner in the oneworld alliance, American Airlines.  Qatar has a 10% holding in IAG, the BA/Iberia/Vueling assemblage and one could argue the dominant participant in oneworld and its 15 full members.  Qatar also has a 20% stake in Heathrow Airport Ltd, the main hub for IAG.

The photo element of this critique is the use of an image showing a Qatar Airways Boeing 787 landing at Heathrow, shot with a long focus camera, which misinforms the distance between the aircraft and houses around half a mile from the airport runway.  What it has to do with the story is limited, perhaps a picture of HE Akbar al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, would be more pertinent.  Newspapers seem to have a habit of using similar images whenever a Heathrow story emerges.  

Clearly they have been infiltrated by the anti-airport lobby. 

In his piece Rob Lea says that the future of the alliance has been thrown into doubt after Qatar Airways threatened to split the partnership over its dispute with American Airlines. 

In an outburst in Los Angeles – where Qatar was celebrating the launch of new services between the American west coast and Doha – Al Baker denounced attempts by American, a founder member of oneworld, to block Qatar’s expansion in the United States.  The sometimes volatile but charismatic Al Baker, credited with the development of Qatar Airways which he joined as CEO in 1997, has long been known for eruptions, perhaps part of his negotiating skills.  He has threatened on separate occasions to cancel major orders equally with Airbus and Boeing but now is full of praise for his airliner fleet which includes both A380 and 787.

“We don’t get bullied by anybody,” Mr al Baker is quoted as saying. “If American does not want to work fairly with us, we will consult the others and we could form our own mini-alliance if we wanted to.” 

The comments mark the first time that Qatar has threatened to split oneworld over its dispute with US airlines, which Qatar and the other Gulf carriers, Emirates and Etihad, have accused of protectionism. 

Mr al Baker’s comments ratchet up simmering tensions between the Gulf airlines and the US carriers over the latter’s applications to Washington to prevent the former from expanding in the United States because, it is alleged, they are subsidised by their governments. 

Al Baker said that he would not tolerate a situation in which “conditions are no longer conducive to a fair business relationship and mutual respect”.  He previously had threatened to quit the alliance, but until now not to split it.  Qatar joined in 2013. 

An IAG spokesman declined to comment on Al Baker’s remarks, but said that Willie Walsh, its chief executive, had long argued for “open and fair competition”.  That suggests that in any showdown IAG would more likely side with its Middle East shareholder.

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