Qatar Airways CEO says Delta boss is ‘bully and liar’ in subsidies row

Akbar Al Baker launches scathing attack on Delta CEO, as he vows to open the books in proving subsidy allegations are wrong

Ben Flanagan
Ben Flanagan
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Qatar Airways boss Akbar Al Baker has said the head of U.S. carrier Delta is a “bully” and a “liar”, in an escalation of the war of words over alleged unfair subsidies granted to Gulf carriers.

Al Baker vowed to open Qatar Airways’ books to counter allegations that the airline and its Gulf rivals Emirates and Etihad have collectively received government subsidies amounting to $42 billion over 10 years.

That is the claim of the three big U.S. carriers American Airlines, United and Delta, which is headed by Richard Anderson.

Al Baker launched a scathing attack on Anderson on the sidelines of the Arabian Travel Market (ATM) in Dubai.

“He’s just a bully. And he’s a liar,” Al Baker told Al Arabiya News. “I will refuse to say hello to him… He’s not worth it.”

It is not the first time Al Baker has spoken out against the Delta Airlines chief.

Al Baker said in February that Anderson should be “ashamed” of his comments blaming Delta’s 2005 bankruptcy on “9/11 terrorists” from the Gulf, as part of his argument in the commercial dispute with the three biggest airlines of the region.

Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad have been accused of breaching “open skies” guidelines by receiving subsidies from their respective governments, claims the Gulf airlines strenuously deny.

Al Baker said he is travelling to the U.S. next week, where he plans to confront the allegations against the Qatar-owned airline.

“I am going to open the books and confront them,” he told delegates at the ATM.

He added, however, that a full response to the allegations of the U.S. carriers would take two years, pointing out that that is how long the U.S. dossier took to prepare.

Al Baker alleged that the involvement of Anderson in the campaign against the three big Gulf carriers was against the interests of the U.S. public.

“He has no dignity, he has no ethics. He has in my opinion a weak personality, and he is only hiding behind all this nonsense, misleading his government in a big way,” Al Baker said.

“I think Mr Anderson has never seen a CEO that will be so direct, so insulting and absolutely to-the-point to expose him.”

A Delta Airlines spokesperson questioned why Qatar Airways was not disclosing its finances immediately.

“We’re not sure why it would take “years” to open his books. It should take about five minutes,” the spokesperson told Al Arabiya News.

Delta did not specifically react to Al Baker’s allegation that its CEO is a “bully” and a “liar”.

“We aren’t interested in name calling,” the spokesperson said. “What we are interested in is a resolution to one of the greatest trade imbalances in U.S. history – one that threatens U.S. jobs.”

But Saj Ahmad, the chief analyst at StrategicAero Research, pointed out an irony in that argument, given that U.S. airlines frequently buy jets from the France-based Airbus instead of the Chicago-headquartered Boeing.

“One of the ironic things about the complaints of the U.S. airlines is that they say that jobs in the U.S. are being threatened... Yet Delta, United and American Airlines think nothing of buying Airbus jets which support European jobs and harm jobs at Boeing,” he said.

“Throw in the fact that U.S. airlines focus more on domestic demand to bolster their profits, it’s hard to see how they claim any financial losses on routes from the Middle East that they do not serve. The reality is that U.S. airlines want the 1970s era of regulation back and it’s simply not going to happen,” he added.

“Perhaps when U.S. airlines start tackling the subsidies that Chinese airlines have, which are far and away more obscene, then they may have legitimacy a tackling Gulf airlines. But that they do not displays the selective incompetence of U.S. airlines and how poorly they are run – that’s why passengers, even in the U.S., want to fly Gulf airlines when travelling internationally.”

The Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, a coalition formed by the three U.S. airlines, yesterday reiterated claims that Qatar Airways receives unfair subsidies.

“The governments of Qatar and the UAE have granted Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates enormous advantages that undermine fair competition and violate Open Skies policy. We have identified more than $42 billion in subsidies and other unfair advantages in the past decade alone – and we’ve backed up our research by publicly releasing over a thousand pages of supporting documents,” Jill Zuckman, chief spokesperson for the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies, told Al Arabiya News.

“We believe the cold, hard facts speak for themselves. And that is why the Partnership for Open & Fair Skies reiterates its call for the U.S. government to freeze further expansion by these carriers and open government-to-government consultations to resolve this dispute as quickly as possible.”

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