Qatar Airways group chief executive Akbar Al Baker has dismissed the latest round of accusations from US airlines about unfair competition from the Gulf carriers, saying they need to understand the difference between government subsidies and government equity.
Al Baker was speaking to Richard Quest of CNN in the wake of a controversial interview the US network's business anchor conducted with Delta Air Lines chief executive Richard Anderson on 16 February.
In that interview, Anderson restated that US airlines had "documented evidence that cannot be refuted" that the Gulf carriers have benefited from "tens of billions of dollars in direct government subsidies".
Controversially, Anderson also rebuffed the point that US airlines had benefited from huge government subsidies after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, citing "the great irony" that the terrorists originated from the same region as the Gulf carriers.
Challenged about the alleged subsidies, Al Baker told Quest: "Quite frankly, I think Mr Richard Anderson needs to go and study in a university to find out what the difference is between equity and subsidy.
"We don't receive any subsidy. What the government has given us is equity into an airline which they own."
Al Baker also denied accusations that Qatar Airways benefits from unrealistically low fees at Doha's all-new Hamad International airport, pointing out that the charges are uniform for all carriers serving the hub.
While he did not respond directly Anderson's comments about the origins of the 9/11 terrorists, Al Baker said the Delta boss had "forgotten that in 2001 the US government contributed nearly $5 billion in aid to the airlines and an additional $10 billion in loan guarantees. What is this called? Is it called a donation or is it called a subsidy or is it called government help to them?"
Some observers are curious about Anderson's latest line of attack, given the links that Delta and its SkyTeam alliance partners have with airlines in the Gulf region. Saudi Arabian flag carrier Saudia is a major player in SkyTeam, while Delta's transatlantic partner Air France-KLM is building ties with Abu Dhabi carrier Etihad Airways through codeshares and a revenue share agreement.
Meanwhile, American Airlines – Delta's ally in the US majors' campaign to force a US government rethink of its open-skies policy – operates a transatlantic partnership with IAG, of which Qatar Airways owns almost 10%, and all are members of the Oneworld alliance.