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‘It was just a joke’: Qatar Airways boss apologises for saying his airline ‘has to be led by a man because it is a very challenging position’
- Akbar Al Baker has apologised for his remarks at close of IATA annual meeting
- When asked why his airline is led by a man, he said ‘of course it had to be’
- On Wednesday, he said it was intended as a joke and was taken out of context
- He defended his airline’s record of gender diversity, saying 44 percent of staff were female and some were in senior positions
The chief executive of Qatar Airways apologised on Wednesday for saying that a woman could not do his job.
Akbar Al Baker said his remarks at the closing of the International Air Transport Association’s two-day annual meeting in Sydney had been intended as a joke and taken out of context.
He defended his airline’s record of gender diversity, saying 44 percent of its staff were female including some in senior positions.
‘Quite frankly I think the press took it out of context,’ the 56-year-old told a CAPA-Centre for Aviation conference in Sydney.
Qatar Airways boss Akbar Al Baker (pictured on Tuesday) has apologised for saying that a woman could not do his job
‘They blew it out of proportion. It was just a joke.
‘I didn’t mean it in the way it was meant to be … I apologise for it.’
Al Baker’s earlier comments had come at a news conference moments after he was elected as the IATA’s chairman.
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The issue of gender imbalance in aviation was a hot topic at the annual meeting of the IATA, only six of whose 280 member airlines have female chief executives.
Asked at Tuesday’s news conference about female employment among Middle East airlines, and why his job as chief executive could not be done by a woman, Al Baker said: ‘Of course it has to be led by a man because it is a very challenging position.’
He later attempted to backtrack and said Qatar Airways was the first carrier in the region to have female pilots.
Akbar Al Baker (centre) later defended the carrier, saying it was the first Middle Eastern airline to have a female pilot and that other women were in senior roles. Pictured left, IATA chief executive Alexandre de Juniac and right, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce
But his remarks sparked backlash on social media.
Al Baker, who also sits on the board of Heathrow, is one of the airline industry’s most outspoken and controversial figures.
He is known for blistering and often humorous criticism of rival airlines and planemakers, but he has drawn criticism for being insensitive or disrespectful.
In 2017, he apologised after calling American flight attendants ‘grandmothers’ during a trade row with US airlines, prompting an airline union to accuse him of sexism and age discrimination.
While in Ireland to launch the country’s link to Doha, he delivered a speech saying that the average age of Qatar’s flight attendants is 26, so there’s no need to fly with ‘cr**’ US carriers where passengers are ‘served by grandmothers.’
In 2017, he apologised after calling American flight attendants ‘grandmothers’ while saying the average age of Qatar Airways stewardess is 26. Pictured, a Qatar Airways stewardess for Qatar Airways
In 2014, Qatar Airways defended policies on pregnancy and marriage for cabin crew after coming under fire over working conditions in the conservative Gulf emirate.
Al Baker, who has two sons with his wife Samira, became chief executive of Qatar Airways in 1997.
Asked at Wednesday’s CAPA conference whether he truly believed that only a man could do his job, Al Baker said: ‘No, I don’t believe that.
‘As a matter of fact (at) Air Italy the majority shareholder has shortlisted women to be CEO and as minority shareholder we are actively encouraging that.’
Akbar Al Baker is pictured with his wife Samira Al Baker (left) and Donald and Melania Trump in 2007
It’s not the first time Al Baker has courted controversy with his remarks about women. Pictured from left, Stephen Schwarzman, Christine Schwarzman, Samira Al Baker and Akbar Al Baker
Sharing a podium, the head of British Airways owner IAG, Willie Walsh, said the industry had a long way to go in promoting women, starting with the IATA, a quasi-international organisation with two women on its 31-person board.
‘This whole debate should encourage more,’ Walsh said.
‘If you look at the board it is predominantly middle-aged white men from Europe.
‘We have more diversity on the board now than we have had for a long time, and we have to strive to improve that situation.’
The gender row comes amid a deeper debate about whether airlines based on different national social models, recruitment policies and wage structures can compete on equal terms.
US and some European airlines have accused Gulf carriers of unfair competition based on subsidies and social policies, but Walsh – whose group counts Qatar Airways as a shareholder – said he believed Gulf airlines competed on an equal footing.
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