Ailing airlines looking for a white knight need not trouble Qatar Airways. Chief executive Akbar Al Baker says the cash-rich carrier is no longer in the market to acquire airlines after its strategic investment in freight specialist Cargolux.
“We were looking at potential acquisitions, but we are not any more,” he says. “All the time people are knocking at our door. We are polite in telling them that we are not interested.”
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Airbus and Boeing are used to being kept on their toes by the outspoken Al Baker and both have been given a warning. Al Baker says Qatar Airways is still interested in the largest variant of the Airbus A350, the -1000, for which it holds 20 orders, but that the airline is still disappointed with the variant’s performance figures. “Airbus are working to improve the aircraft, but I want to stress that as the aircraft is today, Qatar Airways is not happy.” The airline has a further 60 commitments for the -800 and -900 versions of the A350.
Al Baker says he is confident of receiving the first of 30 Boeing 787-8s – the 53rd Dreamliner off the production line – in time to enter service shortly after being displayed in Qatar Airways colours at the Farnborough air show in July. But he warns that failure to deliver by this deadline will not be tolerated. “Boeing is aware that Qatar Airways will not accept any further slippage,” he says.
He also said a potential acquisition of the Bombardier CSeries has been “shelved” but that Qatar Airways “will come back to it”.
Al Baker promised to introduce radical changes at Cargolux, in which Qatar Airways owns a 35% stake. “They have been in the cargo business for 25 years longer than we have. But it is important that the culture and the way the business is run happens in a different way. Times have changed but their business model has not. We want to bring in efficiencies and help them streamline by introducing them to our culture.”
He said the immediate outlook for the cargo market remains gloomy, admitting that Qatar had invested in Cargolux at a “difficult time” for the sector. “Cargo is bad at the moment. Luckily we are not a major operator of freighters so we can weather the crisis. In the long term I expect it to improve, but in the short term, no,” he said.