With his frank and forthright views, Akbar Al Baker can always be relied upon to liven up the international air shows. He has developed Qatar Airways to a point where it is viewed as a hugely important customer for the likes of Airbus and Boeing – and he knows it.
“The manufacturers don’t like me criticising them publicly, but I am a customer and I can say what I want,” he says.
Just a decade since placing its first airliner orders, Qatar Airways now wields huge influence at the airframers. It was launch customer for the original A350 in 2005, and helped drive Airbus’s rethink of that aircraft from its original guise as a warmed-over A330 to the all-new XWB. “Qatar Airways is in the Airbus’s product development team where we are guiding the specification of what an A350 should be,” he says.
Bombardier has been patiently courting Qatar Airways to become a launch customer for the CSeries, while Airbus would dearly love the airline on board its new A320neo programme. Delicate negotiations are continuing with both parties as Al Baker stands firm for deals that are on his terms. “We still have a long way to go to the Paris air show, to finalise everything. We could have a deal by then, for both the CSeries and the A320neo, or just for one.”
The airline is also in a battle with Airbus over plans to convert its A330-200s into freighters for its expanding cargo arm. “Airbus is refusing to agree to a conversion programme because it wants to sell new freighters,” says Al Baker, warning that if he does not get his way he will turn to Seattle.