The boss of Qatar Airways has been caught up in an ugly gaffe, after saying his company needed to be led by a man “because it is a very challenging position”.
Akbar Al Baker made the statement during a media conference at the conclusion of the annual meeting for the International Air Transport Association in Sydney.
Qantas CEO Alan Joyce and IATA Director Alexandre de Juniac were also answering questions from reporters.
The Qatari businessman is the incoming chairman of the IATA, and had promised at the beginning of the media conference to not make any controversial statements, because he took the role seriously.
The audible gasp from the crowd as @qatarairways GCEO and @IATA Chairman Akbar Al Baker "jokes" only a man can be a CEO is amazing. Listen for yourself. @Qantas CEO Alan Joyce cutting him off was both good and bad, I suppose. #IATAAGM #iawa @WomenInAviation @WomenOfAviation pic.twitter.com/rrrFND3G5E
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) June 5, 2018
But the comments came 10 minutes later, when asked about the number of women working in the aviation industry, especially in the Middle East.
“What are some of the resolutions, some of the ideas, that IATA will try to bring to the forefront, to have more women represented in airlines?” the reporter asked.
“And can you address specifically how that will pan out in the Middle East, where according to IATA figures, that’s the lowest representation of women?”
Mr Al Baker responded by saying that “it’s not in Qatar Airways”.
“Well, certainly it’s being led by a man?” the reporter said.
“Well, of course, it has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position,” Mr Al Baker said.
There was a shocked response from the room, which prompted Qantas’ CEO Alan Joyce to step in, and make light of the situation.
“Akbar said he was going to stop saying controversial things. He lasted 10 minutes — 10 minutes,” Mr Joyce said.
“Is that all we’re going to get out of him. Ten minutes. Sorry Akbar.”
Mr Al Baker continued.
“You know, I have to put a little bit of fireworks around to motivate people to ask more questions,” he said.
“You answer her, I will keep quiet,” he said referring to Mr Joyce.
The pair later went on to speak about their commitments to fixing gender imbalances at their companies.
Fuel price concerns
A central concern from airlines at the IATA conference was rising fuel prices, as extra costs may need to be passed on to customers.
Emirates Airlines president Sir Tim Clarke told ABC radio that he was optimistic any price hike would not be too large.
“You’ve heard about the growth in fuel costs, once again, it’s returning to bite us in the backside,” he said.
“But there’s a degree of optimism in our ability to handle it, we’re stronger than we were a few years ago as an industry.
“So I’m kind of not as pessimistic as we might have been … when prices were at $140.”
But Mr Joyce said that despite airlines’ best efforts, some costs would need to be passed on.
“We work on ways to continue to give really good low airfares to the market, by better fuel efficiency, better aircraft burning less fuel, less weight on the aircraft with catering carts and the like,” he said.
“But there is going to be a need to pass on some of these costs, which are big costs, to the consumers.”