As Qatar and its neighbours enter the second week of its dispute, where Qatar has been cut off from surrounding nations of the UAE, Saudia Arabia and Bahrain, Qatar Airways CEO has finally spoken out on the issue.
The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt all cut ties with Qatar early last week, blocking movement between the countries, which included air transport. It also has prevented Qataris from transiting in airports of these nations.
The reason given for the blockade was that Qatar was supporting terrorism and posed a security risk to the surrounding regions, a claim the country firmly denies.
As a result, Qatar Airways has suspended flights to these nations, while Etihad, flyDubai and Emirates have also stopped flights into Qatar.
Now, speaking to Doha-based media outlet, Aljazeera, Chief Executive Akbar al-Baker has called the ban on Qatar and the national carrier “illegal”, but has maintained the airline will bounce back from this setback.
“This is the last thing any CEO of an airline would want to hear, that the airspace in which it operates, international airspace, in which it operates has illegally been blocked,” al-Baker told the publication.
“[But] Qatar is very resilient. And we have managed to make sure that life will continue as normal.
“For us, the biggest priority is for us to have a gateway in and out of my country, which we are very successfully handling, and at the same time, it is our passengers for which it is our responsibility.
“First, to re-route them, second to give them a full refund if they chose to do so, and thirdly if they choose to travel on Qatar Airways, that we give them the highest amount of care.”
Al-Baker assured Aljazeera that any passenger booking on Qatar Airways will be entitled to a refund if they change their mind and no longer wish to travel with them, insisting passengers “don’t have any risk of losing the money that they have invested in Qatar Airways”.
Having just recorded a profit of $541 million and a passenger number boost of 20 per cent, al-Baker said Qatar would persevere financially, but didn’t hide the fact that he fears this blockade would see Qatar Airways “underperform” in the next profit report.
“But not to the extent of our neighbours, because Qatar Airways has a very strong growth plan,” al-Baker told Aljazeera.
Now with the ban shutting the airline out of 18 destinations in total, al-Baker said they would look to other profitable markets.
“We are now going to accelerate the other regions of the world, where we feel that we will mitigate the reduction in passenger numbers from this 18 destinations.”
He added to Aljazeera that while Qatar Airways would suffer financially, this plan would ensure that they wouldn’t suffer as much as their neighbours running what he called an “illegal” blockade.
“What is also doing is letting the entire region’s air connectivity confidence to be lost,” al-Baker said to Aljazeera. “They are in the same basket.
“So they should not think that they’ll be going laughing to the bank, while they are putting economic pain on my country.”
Citing the Chicago Convention, which last week was reported to be the airline’s lifeline in terms of access to airspace to the rest of the world, al-Baker told the publication it meant the airlines were “disregarding an airspace that had been provided to them by a UN body to administer for the purpose of international air transport facilitation and safety”.
“So they do not have the right to blockade this,” he told Aljazeera.
“There is a political motivation because this state of Qatar is always at the forefront of solving problems in our region, trying to bring a look at things in a very stable manner.
“Qatar is also taking high profile political initiatives, and this is creating jealousy.”
Al-Baker added that it was too soon to evaluate any losses.
“I don’t want to tell you a loss, and you know raise an alarm, while I am as a businessman and as CEO of Qatar Airways finding other business opportunities, where I will mitigate these losses that I’m having in the destinations they have to withdraw from,” he told Aljazeera.
“We will celebrate again a good profit next year by the will of God. We will grow into new markets.
“When we withdrew from one destination for example, we didn’t close the airline down. We looked at five new destinations, and this is exactly what we’re doing.”
Al-Baker also added to Aljazeera that the Qatar hosting, and Qatar Airways sponsorship of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, would not be affected by this rift.
“I am sure that 2022 [World Cup] will be conducted in my country, and I assure you, that it will be the best FIFA tournament taken place, ever, in this world.
“Similarly, when we launched IATA AGM here, people still talk about it, because in Qatar we are always doing our job to the best.”