FlightPlan III C-Suite Week, which has been airing a series of commercial aviation leadership interviews this week, yesterday featured one of the most recognisable figures in the global aviation industry, Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive Akbar Al Baker. He was interviewed by BBC World News journalist Aaron Heslehurst, with the session exploring the impact of COVID-19 on global aviation as well as Al Baker’s plans and vision for the ambitious carrier.
Akbar Al Baker, whose leadership has transformed Qatar Airways from a small regional carrier into one of the world’s leading global airlines, has been steering the carrier through the COVID-19 pandemic. He commented that, while the carrier naturally had to shrink its operations to adjust to the challenging landscape the pandemic created for airlines, it has now been building back its capacity and expanding.
“When people fly with us in the good times, we should also be there for them in bad times”, he commented, noting that while the pandemic was something airline CEOs never even dreamed of happening in their wildest dreams, being there for their customers was exactly what Qatar Airways did. The carrier continued to fly throughout the pandemic: “Yes, we had to shrink our network just like everyone else but we then gradually grew. Today, we fly to 130 destinations and plan to go up to 140. We are also the only airline in the world to have added new long-haul destinations and are seeing new pockets of business that we can tap onto.”
Opportunity in a downturn
According to Al Baker, every downturn also presents opportunities. He explained that, to make the most of these opportunities, carriers need be resilient and forward-looking and be prepared to also take the risks and challenges, while also noting that Qatar Airways is always adapting to suit the challenges.
Regarding any lessons learned from the pandemic, Al Baker says the biggest lesson for airline CEOs has been that they should not rest on their laurels. “You should always have a plan B and even a plan C. How will you conduct your business when there are dire circumstances? You should be prepared to face the music, whatever happens.”
Al Baker believes the industry will bounce back, beginning with leisure travel, with business travel following suit. “People are itching to travel and when it comes to business travel, people want to meet with their clients and do business face to face.”
The carrier also had a reason to celebrate this week – it revealed on Wednesday that it had been named the Airline of the Year 2021 by AirlineRatings. The airline also collected the awards for the Best Middle East Airline, Best Catering and the Best Business Class. Al Baker commented on the awards: “Receiving the 2021 Airline of the Year, Best Middle East Airline, Best Catering and Best Business Class awards by AirlineRatings is particularly special for Qatar Airways. Over the past 16 months, the aviation industry has witnessed some of its darkest days, but Qatar Airways has continued to operate and stand by our passengers despite many other airlines halting operations due the pandemic.”
“Qatar Airways continues to reach new heights and set industry standards that deliver unrivalled passenger experience because it is in our DNA to do everything with excellence. Our commitment is to provide the highest possible level of health and safety standards both on the ground and in the air, with 5-star service at the core of our business.”