The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation is a highly respected consultancy, and we at AirInsight have met their leadership team and respect their capabilities and ethics. They are an outstanding firm. Annually, they award “man of the year” honors to an industry participant. For 2017, the award was presented to Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker.
CAPA’s rationale for choosing Al-Baker was straightforward and logical. Qatar has faced a ban on the use of airspace by neighboring countries, and a ban on its flights in the region. That has required a reconfiguration of destinations, routes, and essentially a recalibration of Qatar’s entire network. The ability of Qatar to continue to grow and prosper under those circumstances, and to turn a setback into an opportunity is a credit to Akbar Al-Baker’s management skill. Qatar Airways has faced difficulties that would be the equivalent of Canada and Mexico shutting off airspace to US carriers, and has adapted to conditions that its political opponents hoped would drive them out of business. Thanks to Al-Baker’s leadership, the airline continues to thrive.
Unfortunately, CAPA is now coming under fire from a lobbying group in the US, The Partnership for Open and Fair Skies, who have publicly criticized that selection and impugned CAPA’s integrity. Their spokesperson, Jill Zuckman, stated that “Cheater of the Year” would have been a more appropriate title, and that “This recognition should be viewed as nothing more than an unsubtle attempt by a CEO who is reliant on government subsidies to buy credibility from an organization that lives in the pocket of the Gulf carriers.”
Who is the Partnership for Open and Fair Skies? This group, according to their website, consists of American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, Air Line Pilots Association, Allied Pilots Association, the airline division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants, the Communication Workers of America and the Southwest Airlines Pilots Association.
While Delta, American, United and their unions have been waging a PR campaign against the growth of the ME3 in the US market, their PR folks may have gone too far in defaming a well-respect industry consultancy. CAPA has noted that it has no contracts with the ME3, and made the choice based on the actions of Qatar to counter the shut-down of airspace due to politics, a dangerous precedent that violates the principles of the Chicago Convention of 1945.
The Bottom Line
The Partnership for Open and Fair Skies went a bit too far, and is not doing a service to its members on the world stage. CAPA is a respected organization, and Akbar Al-Baker has done what no one thought possible – turning a threat to survival into a new network that has been able to stabilize the situation and reposition the airline towards growth in 2018, with the boycott still impending the viability of recent aircraft acquisitions. We stand with our colleagues at CAPA in our recognition for what Qatar has been able to accomplish in very challenging circumstances.
AirInsight also has no business ties to Qatar Aviation or the ME3, and join CAPA as a US-based organization in recognizing Akbar Al-Baker our Man of the Year as well, in support of our colleagues in Asia.
It is disappointing that some of the finest legacy carrier in the world, American, Delta, and United have opted for a strategy that we can only characterize as misguided against an internationally recognized consulting firm. While we appreciate the challenging nature of the competition from the ME3 that those carriers have been faced with, and in particular the velocity upon which this competition has been materializing, we reject any attempts at questioning the integrity of our CAPA colleagues with their selection of Mr Al Baker as their Man of the Year.
One can only wonder how Mr. Al-Baker’s assumption of the leadership of IATA’s general assembly in 2018 will impact the US3 legacy carriers on the international stage. Stay tuned.