Qatar Airways CEO Named As oneworld Governing Board Chairman

Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, His Excellency Mr Akbar Al Baker, has been appointed to the role of Governing Board Chairman of the oneworld alliance. Al Baker takes over the role from Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce. This new appointment is a sharp contrast to Al Baker’s stance against the alliance several years ago in 2018 and 2019 when he said that his airline was likely to leave oneworld.

Qatar Airways CEO Named As oneworld Governing Board Chairman
Qatar Airlines joined the oneworld alliance in 2013 and is the only carrier of the “ME3” to be in an alliance. However, nearby Saudia is part of the SkyTeam alliance. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

From IATA to oneworld

Taking over from Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce, Mr Akbar Al Baker has been appointed as the Chairman of the Governing Board of the oneworld Alliance. Al Baker will oversee the alliance’s governance, chair the alliance’s Governing Board meetings, and work closely with oneworld CEO Rob Gurney and his management team.

A statement by oneworld calls the Qatar Airways CEO “an influential figure in the global aviation industry,” citing his current and previous high-level roles at other organizations.

Indeed, Mr Al Baker served as Chairman of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) Board of Governors from June 2018 to June 2019. He has also served on IATA’s Board of Governors since 2012 and is a member of the Executive Committee of the Arab Air Carriers Organisation and a non-executive Director of Heathrow Airport Holdings.

“To represent and lead the oneworld alliance is a tremendous privilege, and I am grateful for the opportunity to represent an alliance that has played a pivotal role in maintaining global connectivity to support the transportation of essential workers, medical equipment and aid supplies throughout the pandemic.” -His Excellency Mr Akbar Al Baker, Chief Executive, Qatar Airways Group

Qatar Airways CEO Named As oneworld Governing Board Chairman
Al Baker has led Qatar Airways since its launch in 1997, making him the longest CEO of a oneworld member airline. Photo: Vincenzo Pace – Simple Flying

The difference a few years can make

Al Baker’s appointment to such a high-level position at the alliance is a sharp contrast to two-and-a-half years ago. It was during late 2018 and the first half of 2019 that numerous news reports warned of Qatar Airways’ pending departure from the oneworld alliance.

Indeed, those news reports were based on the very public criticism coming from Al Baker against the alliance, which was amplified by his own airline’s social media channels, as can be seen in the embedded posts below.

In the 2018 CNN interview below (published to the Qatar Airways official YouTube account), Al Baker came out against oneworld, saying, “we are being bullied by the big boy, continuously trying to undermine our progress, and trying to pull the carpet from underneath us having relationships with other airlines.”

With all of this turbulent history, it’s interesting that oneworld saw fit to install Al Baker as its Governing Board Chairman. Either it’s a case of recognizing Al Baker’s talent and leadership skill despite his criticisms, or the alliance’s way of turning a former critic into a close ally and keeping the middle eastern airline onboard. Perhaps it’s something we’ll have a chance to ask His Excellency in our webinar next Wednesday.

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Almost a quarter-century leading Qatar Airways

With the airline group CEO having lead Qatar Airways since its founding in 1997, Al Baker has racked up almost a quarter-century of experience leading the Middle Eastern carrier. Indeed, under his leadership, Al Baker has grown Qatar Airways into one of the world’s most highly-awarded airlines with an extensive global network. The airline now has plans to serve over 140 destinations by the end of July 2021.

Airline growth doesn’t take place in a vacuum, of course. The fact that Qatar Airways has managed to hold its ground against the fierce competition offered by neighboring Emirates and Etihad is another impressive accomplishment. Doing this during a blockade against the nation of Qatar and then performing admirably amidst a global health crisis speaks further to the airline’s strong leadership.

With all of this in mind, it’s rather exciting to see how Al Baker’s new role might shape the oneworld alliance during his term.

Do you think competing groups Star Alliance and SkyTeam have anything to worry about? Do you think Al Baker will be making big oneworld changes with his new role? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.