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Qatar Airways CEO calls unfair subsidies talk 'crap'

Gulf carriers not expanding through state subsidies, says Al Baker.
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker at the Aviation Business Awards
Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker at the Aviation Business Awards

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The CEO of Qatar Airways has hit back at accusations Gulf carriers are expanding on the back of state subsidies, labelling the allegations from European airlines as “crap”.

Akbar Al Baker said European airlines should shoulder the challenge of competition from carriers such as Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways, rather than criticising their rivals.

“We have been, and will continue, to give other airlines a run for their money,” he told delegates in a keynote speech at the Aviation Business Awards on Monday night.

“The rest of the world's airlines have no direction. They and the governments still treat them as cash cows.”

The Gulf’s three largest airlines are among the world’s biggest buyers of new aircraft, as they seek to establish their cities as international travel hubs.

Emirates, the largest international carrier, kicked off this week’s Dubai Airshow with an order for 50 Boeing 777-300ER jets, the biggest-ever civil jet order in the planemaker’s history worth an estimated $26bn.

The rapid expansion of Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways has provoked sharp exchanges between Gulf carriers and European airlines, with the latter accusing the state-backed airlines of competing on an unlevel playing field.

The co-chairman of Austrian Airlines said in March that Gulf carriers utilised unfair subsidies to finance aircraft deals and to take market share from existing airlines.

“It’s not a match of airline against airline – it’s a game between a state and AUA,” Peter Malanik said. “The situation is similar to the production of T-shirts using child labour. AUA would need to hire 1,000 staff from Bangladesh immediately to be able to compete.”

Al Baker has been consistently outspoken in his criticism of Europe’s legacy carriers, accusing the airlines of “crying wolf” rather than addressing flaws in their own businesses.

“There is a level playing field; we operate as a business the same way they operate as a business,” he told Arabian Business in May. I know they [European airlines] are always crying wolf that Gulf carriers are subsidised by the state. Subsidised no, but supported yes.

“Lufthansa, Air France, Iberia - all these airlines, they were all once upon a time government owned and it is only in the recent past that they have been privatised, the same way we are also going to privatised. We are going to go for an IPO, so what is the problem?”

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