|Al Baker is slowly becoming the Micael O'Leary of the Gulf. As much as I support open skies, there is nothing here, on a reciprocal basis, for Canada to pursue. I fully agree with Rovinescu's position.
QATAR AIR CEO BLASTS OTTAWA ON LANDING SLOTS
Montreal Gazette, 13 April 2012
Canada: Akbar Al Baker has long argued, pleaded and cajoled Ottawa for more Canadian landing rights for his airline, Qatar Airways, than the three flights weekly currently between Doha and Montreal.
But the eminently quotable – and apparently fearless – chief executive may not have increased his chances with his verbal fireworks with reporters after a lunchtime speech to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations.
Ottawa “is trying to protect Air Canada” by refusing Qatar Airways and Emirates Airline additional landing slots at Canadian airports and by forbidding its employees to strike, he told reporters.
“If my government protected me, no one could fly to Doha except Qatar Airways.”
Al Baker told reporters later that if he were Canadian prime minister, “I would tell Air Canada to go to hell.”
“Blunt talk,” he conceded. “But let it be heard that at least somebody is not afraid to speak the truth.”
Qatar would like to have “at least four flights a day to four major cities” – Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.
Ottawa has only one negotiator to handle all the requests from the world’s airlines for more landing rights, and Al Baker said that this is not a fluke.
It’s a considered strategy to slow down as much as possible the flow of additional landing rights, he said, a time-consuming trickle that is purposely done for the benefit of Air Canada.
“You have only one chief negotiator for such a big country. Other countries have teams that go all over the world. But this is no criticism of him. He’s a civil servant getting instructions from his political masters. Actually he was very embarrassed when he came to Doha. He told me ‘this is my mandate. I cannot go beyond.’ ”
In a bruising battle over the last few years, Emirates Airlines and other Persian Gulf carriers have accused Ottawa of restricting access to Canada to favour and protect Air Canada – to the detriment of Canadian consumers.
Air Canada argues that the carriers represent unfair competition because they are state-owned, pay no taxes in their countries and have nearly unlimited access to funds. Point-to-point traffic is negligible between Montreal and Doha, Air Canada president Calin Rovinescu has repeated, meaning that the Gulf carriers are eating into Air Canada’s home turf by using the Doha hub as a trans-shipping point to ferry passengers to their final destinations in Asia and Africa.
Isabelle Arthur of Air Canada said in an email that “our position on this issue has been stated publicly many times and we have nothing to add. The current bilateral arrangements allow for more than adequate capacity to carry all point-to-point traffic between our two countries.”
“In particular, note that with the introduction of Qatar’s three weekly flights, this now represents nine flights per week in each direction between Canada and the Gulf states.”
True, replied Al Baker. “But that’s the name of the game now.” Air Canada does the same thing with its hubs in London, Paris and Frankfurt.
“What do they do? They feed passengers to their (Star Alliance) partners (like Lufthansa).”
And Air Canada has been bailed out by Ottawa on many occasions, Al Baker said, including on its pension fund when the Montreal carrier filed for bankruptcy protection and after 9/11.
Al Baker, who always mixes unusually candid declarations in his speeches with jokes tailored for the local audience, said that Doha’s $16-billion U.S. airport will open this year, three years later than the projected four years due to repeated expanded plans.
To general laughter, he told Mayor Gérald Tremblay that “if you need us to take charge of building a bridge, we can build it in seven years. We can easily build a bridge in less than four years, but maybe it will cost you a little more.”
Tremblay later replied that the replacement for the Champlain Bridge is Ottawa’s responsibility
Al Baker said he knows he is “a very controversial figure. I am also very small physically. So don’t take me seriously when I threaten people.