Qatar Airways Group CEO HE Akbar Al Baker has never been afraid of speaking his mind and in recent years has replaced Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary as a the favourite within media circles for a great sound byte.
At the CAPA Qatar Aviation Aeropolitical & Regulatory Summit in Doha earlier this year he described the Qatar air space blockade by neighbouring countries as a “ruthless campaign of isolation” from “illegal actions” from what were former partners.
He also expressed disappointment to the reaction of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), which he said was “rather timid and disappointing” as they took a “back seat”. Meanwhile, he described the airline alliance system as “old fashioned”, adding they are only “fashionable” and allow airlines to “burn miles on each other and use their lounges”.
Away from the media spotlight he sat down with The Blue Swan Daily to discuss the latest developments at the airline, including, among other things, plans to develop a ‘new’ QSuite offering on the Boeing 777X and details behind its recent decision to acquire long-range versions of the A321neoLR and some of the markets where the new variant will be deployed.
While Boeing has been working to get the 737MAX back in the air it has quietly unveiled its new 777X after rolling out the first prototype 777-9. Qatar Airways will be among the first tranche of airlines to fly the new widebody, and while Mr Al Baker acknowledges “we don’t like to be guinea pigs for aircraft manufacturers,” it is due to receive its first example in 2020.
He confirmed in our interview that the airline will have “a new brand of QSuite” on the aircraft and “five years down the line all our widebody fleet will be fitted with a QSuite” product. But, he warned that “product innovation can be a double-edged sword,” and added: “when the product moves on, we will not every time be able to upgrade the product.”
After earlier this year converting 10 of its 50 Airbus A321neo on order to the Airbus A321neoLR long range variant of the A320 family, Mr Al Baker confirmed plans to deploy the aircraft to “relieve” widebody aircraft when there is “a reduction in seasonal capacity”. The aircraft will also likely connect Doha to new growing markets where demand is not sufficient for widebody aircraft or where current narrow bodies (A320/A321) are unable to reach.
The first of the new aircraft will arrive in 2021, but he confirmed that the southern Thailand destination of Krabi has already been earmarked as a potential destination for the new variant. “We go with a widebody aeroplane, but it is seasonal. We don’t want to operate seasonal. We want to operate all year around. We can very easily reduce capacity to a narrowbody and still be able to operate that intercontinental flight,” outlined Mr Al Baker.
WATCH MORE… see the full interview with Qatar Airways Group CEO HE Akbar Al Baker, filmed on the sidelines of the Qatar Aviation Aeropolitical & Regulatory Summit in Doha in Feb-2019, via the CAPA TV channel.