Akbar Al Baker was on top form as at a packed Aviation Club luncheon in London yesterday.
This was not the first time Qatar Airways' ever-controversial but charming chief executive has been the guest speaker at the monthly event, held in the plush Pall Mall function room of the Institute of Directors, adorned with portraits of monarchs and English aristocracy.
Al Baker has in the 15 years he has run the rapidly-expanding Doha-based airline been elevated from the boss of a tiny flag-carrier to aviation aristocracy himself. His appearance drew the biggest audience ever at an Aviation Club lunch.
In true Mark Anthony style, Al Baker began by humbly thanking the organisation for inviting him once again, insisting that he was simply an ordinary man working his hardest to generate value for his airline's shareholders. When he took on a combative approach with a supplier, it was simply to extract a better deal. His whole approach was about driving up standards and increasing choice for customers. He ran through Qatar's growth plans, outlining plans for new routes and fleet expansion, and its reasons for joining the oneworld network.
"So much has happened at Qatar Airways in the past year," he enthused.
But then he picked on some familiar targets. First for the Al Baker treatment was the "old regime" at IATA. The Qatar Airways' boss has never been a fan of former IATA chief Giovanni Bisignani, and he had some choice words for the way the organisation used to be run. He is a big fan of the "new regime" under Tony Tyler and now sits on the board.
Next up for a going-over were the parts of the aviation establishment - two European legacy carriers in particular - who had treated Qatar Airways and the other Gulf airlines as "pariahs" who drew on enormous state resources, subsidised fuel and limitless funding to "steal passengers" from competitors. "Let me put that myth to bed," he said, explaining that QR and its Gulf counterparts paid market rates for fuel and ran profitable businesses. They had won market share because they had put customers first, he said.
He accused them of hypocrisy, saying they had never complained when South-East Asian airlines went through their wave of state-facilitated expansion a decade or more earlier. And he couldn't resist naming one of his targets: "It is not the Gulf airlines that have made Lufthansa operate unprofitably".
A third target was Europe's Emissions Trading System - "an unfair form of taxation" designed to "bolster the treasure chests" of European governments.
Pausing to praise his new oneworld colleague, IAG's Willie Walsh, who had always recognised the "dynamism" the Gulf airlines were bringing to the industry, he said, he lined up his final prey: UK politicians who were resisting increasing increasing capacity at London Heathrow.
Calling for more runway capacity at the capital's hub is hardly new for an airline boss, and Al Baker started with the sort of phrases any pro-third runway campaigner might utter: "Expanding Heathrow is not an option, it's a necessity". Time was running out, he said. Qatar would love to expand its services from the airport but was unable to, and was now looking at options from other UK cities instead.
But then, in the question and answers session, Al Baker veered from the script and became more provocative. UK politicians should learn lessons from "my part of the world" - and even France - where infrastructure decisions were taken in the "national interest" regardless of local objections. Prime Minister David Cameron should think less about winning votes and more about the interest of the country. He finished by suggesting that those who could not see the value to the national economy of a world-leading Heathrow should be "tied to a table" in one of the terminals to "see what an airport actually does".
Probably the most entertaining Aviation Club lunches for a long time.