CAPA’s Aviation Executive of the Year award stirs debate and unwarranted accusation

CAPA – Centre for Aviation’s recognition this week for the efforts Akbar Al Baker has made to chart Qatar Airways through unprecedented industry challenges this past year has received an unfavourable response from the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, a lobbying organisation made up of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines and US airline industry unions that are pushing for sanctions against Qatar and fellow Gulf carriers Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways.

After being awarded the CAPA Asia Pacific Aviation Executive Award at the CAPA Asia Pacific Aviation & Corporate Travel Summit, held in Singapore on 07-Nov-2017, the organisation put out the following statement:

In response to Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker receiving what it describes as an undeserved “Man of the Year” award from CAPA, the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies released the following statement:

“Congratulations to Mr Al Baker for being named ‘Man of the Year’ when ‘Cheater of the Year’ would be a far more appropriate title. This recognition should be viewed as nothing more than an unsubtle attempt by a CEO who is reliant on government subsidies to buy credibility from an organisation that lives in the pocket of the Gulf carriers.”
Jill Zuckman, chief spokesperson for the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies

CAPA says this Aviation Executive of the Year recognition is awarded to the airline executive who has had the greatest individual influence on the aviation industry, demonstrating outstanding strategic thinking and innovative direction for the growth of their business and the industry.

Qatar Airways in 2017 resisted external events denting its long term optimism for growth and ability to link people and markets with better service and greater value. During the year it faced challenges of certain passengers being banned in the US, a laptop and large electronic ban and then the near instantaneous loss of access to key neighbouring Gulf countries.

On presenting the award earlier this week, Peter Harbison, executive chairman, CAPA said: “Akbar Al Baker has not let Qatar Airways lose its shine during one of its most testing years. Under his guidance, the airline has recalibrated its network to function without access to several neighbouring countries. At the same time, Qatar Airways has continued its expansion plans and created new avenues for growth. He has turned a setback into an opportunity. This is truly a remarkable achievement.”

In an open letter of response to the Partnership’s comments Mr Harbison says while there are many features of the long running campaign against subsidy that may be debatable, the statement issued by the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies on 8-Nov-2017 “is not only unfair – to CAPA and to Qatar Airways’ CEO – but also patently untrue”. Describing the comment as “gratuitously and seriously defamatory” and “totally factually incorrect” he suggests “responsible members of its coalition” will wish to “disassociate” themselves from the comment.

“This sad attempt to discredit anyone who diverges from the highly contentious statements that the Partnership espouses is surely plumbing a new low. We would hope that many among the Partnership’s electorate share our concern at the bullying language used against CAPA,” he says.

READ the full reply from CAPA: Partnership for Open and Fair Skies Responds to Qatar’s CEO “Man of the Year” Award”; CAPA replies