Posted on July 31, 2014

Akbar Al Baker has built up a well-deserved reputation for telling it straight. Among the targets that have been in the Qatar Airways chief executive’s sights are: Boeing (“when you put companies in the hands of accountants, you will always get garbage out”); Airbus (“they are still learning how to make airplanes”); trade unions (for causing “this jobless problem in the western world”; contractors (for failing to build Doha’s new airport on time); regulators (“they think the sun shines out of their a**holes”); and Lufthansa (“their strategy is to kill competition”).

Another topic that Al Baker has waxed lyrical on in the past has been that of open skies – a policy that calls for the removal of restrictions on international routes – and the charges imposed by airport operators on airlines. Speaking earlier this year at the International Air Transport Association (IATA)’s industry get-together in Doha, Al Baker was busy imparting his expert opinion to India’s new government. Like the other Gulf carriers, Qatar Airways is keen to take advantage of the huge opportunity in India, where the population is colossal but only a small percentage of people actually fly.

In his speech, the airline boss said that the Indian government should "rein in the private airport owners, restricting them from levying the strong charges which…IATA…has already raised several times with the authorities because it is untenable for airlines who already have very low margins to keep on paying such high airport charges.... which are unnecessary. "The [private] owners of these airports should also realise that they will get better returns [through airlines increasing operations] than from levying high charges,” Al Baker added.

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All that seems fair enough. But the story is entirely different when it comes to charges at London Heathrow, which are already some of the highest in the world. And the main reason it’s different is because Al Baker sits on the board of Heathrow, representing the airport’s second-biggest shareholder, the Qatar Investment Authority. Last year, when the UK Civil Aviation Authority was planning to force Heathrow to cut its fees, Al Baker wasn’t too happy about the proposed changes.

“As [an] investor we need proper returns to our investment,” he said, adding: “we now try to convince…the regulator that…their perception of how they look at these challenges was maybe not correct”.

At the moment, new Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye is actually hoping to raise landing fees at the airport by as much as 20 percent, which will no doubt be music to its shareholders’ ears. And it clearly doesn’t matter that high taxes on tickets and airport charges have sliced $15 billion off British GDP, according to the British Chamber of Commerce – at least when there’s a quick buck to be made. For Al Baker, it simply seems to be a case of ‘do as I say, not as I do’.

source: Arabian Business

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