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Exclusive Interview with Qatar Airways Group CEO H.E. Akbar Al Baker

On 6th April 2021, I attended Qatar Airways World's first fully vaccinated flight. Before the flight I had the opportunity to meet with Qatar Airways Group CEO, H.E. Akbar Al Baker, for an interview on various topics. He has provided some good insights into the current climate of airline travel and operations. The chief of Qatar Airways is known for being outspoken and serious. I am glad I made him laugh on several occasions.

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Q: Will you eventually require all passengers to be vaccinated to fly with Qatar Airways?

Eventually, I think that it will be a mandatory requirement for many countries. For example, Australia will already not allow people that are not vaccinated to enter the country .

If this pandemic continues on in the same way, and if there is no proper robust treatment, I think many other countries will also require that you have a vaccination passport to enter their borders.

Q: Your airline has kept flying during the pandemic and even started launching new long haul destinations. Does all this make commercial sense?

I will always take every single opportunity I see. I have to find revenue for my airline and when everybody shuts their doors people will still want to travel and we are there to serve them. We carried 3.8 million passengers and we repatriated people when other airlines left their passengers stranded, we were there. We are very agile, resilient and business-focused.

Frankly, we are a state-owned company. So there is no question of a bailout, whatever funding we would get is an equity into the company.

We are now the largest long-haul carrier operating in the world today. We received the lowest equity injection of any airline, many other airlines have received billions in state aid and subsidies.

Q: Flights are resuming back to Saudi Arabia and to the UAE. What does that mean for Qatar Airways from this point on?

Well, it is a very positive development that has happened. We have persevered during the difficulties and we are now back into the mainstream, our operating costs have started to reduce to what they really should be and we hope that business is good for all of us. At the end, everybody realized it was in their best interests to end the blockade.

Q: What about the future of the Qatar Airways A380s? Are there any plans to have them back flying?

Frankly, we have already taken impairment on five of them; so we are writing off five of the 10 we have. If the pandemic continues to extend over the next 2-3 year period, we will be forced to take impairment on the remaining five.

There is no future for the A380. It was the wrong aeroplane at the wrong time. It is something that passengers love, many liked to travel on the A380. It's very quite and it's very spacious, but at the end of the day, for the operator, it's really painful to keep them in the skies.

The operating costs are punishing and so are the maintenance costs, an A380 at C check is three times the cost of that of a B777 or an A350-1000.

If you look at the fuel burn per seat mile, It's way above that of any other airplane that is flying today; and you know, it is the aim of Qatar Airways to keep on growing and become carbon neutral with that growth, that airplane just doesn't help us in that respect.

I not only think the A380 is an inefficient aircraft, but some people are still bragging that they're going to start operating it and that it's going to be a very profitable airplane. Let's see how long they will be able to sustain that after the pandemic. When there is a huge movement on the green front, passengers will not want to get into an airplane that has a high pollution rating.

If they produce an aircraft that has more efficient fuel burn, then we would immediately place an order for that airplane; because we want to make sure that we keep on growing and working towards the goal that we have undertaken of carbon neutrality. Do you know that more than 50% of my fleet today is A350 and B787s? and that we still have 23 787-9s to be delivered; we are also still waiting for around 28 A350s to be delivered. So we will continue to keep on investing, while at the same time we are doing everything we can to sustain the environment.

Q: What would Qatar Airways be like without you? Have you ever thought about that?

We have a succession plan, you know, it is something that I built with the full support of my rulers and the goodwill of the Qatari people; it is my duty to have a robust succession plan in place, which is already there. So if I'm there or not Qatar Airways is still a brand of my country and will continue. You know, all heads of the department come and go but the organization still continues; this is what will happen with Qatar Airways.

Till the last day I am on this chair as the group chief executive, I will continue to do my service towards my country and the mandate given to me by His Highness my ruler.

At the end of the interview, I presented my latest Air747 book to H.E. Akbar Al Baker.

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