We are in the midst of a bit of a back-and-forth between the head of the
Association of European Airlines (Ulrich Schulte-Strathaus, for those keeping score, and to whom I’ll refer as S-S) and outspoken CEO of Qatar Airways (Akbar Al Baker, in the other corner). S-S started things off last month when, while speaking at an aviation conference, he accused Gulf-based carriers Qatar Airways, Etihad and Emirates of conspiring to capacity dump (offering more seats than necessary at a price below their true cost) to drive out Asian and European competitors and, (this is an odd one), accusing the governments of the Gulf nations of operating the airlines “as an instrument of national strategy.”
The latter part was meant to suggest that the airlines are subsidized by the government as a way of building the strength of the countries. This is, of course, an absurd accusation coming from someone representing Europe, where countries have propped up both airlines and airplane manufacturers for years.
He went on, essentially suggesting that these 3 airlines are spending upwards of $100 billion to take over the aviation world (not necessarily untrue). These carriers have more than 400 widebody aircraft on order, more than the US airlines combined.
S-S’ complaint smells of sour grapes if you ask me (which you haven’t), as he’s really just disappointed that no European carrier has been able to accomplish in 80 years what these 3 airlines have done in 20.
Al-Baker struck back in a statement earlier this week saying that S-S’ remarks were “factually incorrect” and called him out for the “billions of Euros” that European countries have pumped into their aviation industry. He then answered S-S’ call for a World Trade Organization for airlines, which would adjudicate disputes between carriers and ensure free trade. Al-Baker said that he’d be happy to have this body as long as it allowed “free competition across the board.” In other words: I’ll sign up for an airline WTO when you let me fly from Frankfurt to New York. Don’t hold your breath.
The Gulf carriers have been much maligned by representatives of airlines in other regions, primarily because they are growing so quickly from the seemingly unlimited funding of their governments. Funny though – isn’t that how just about every other major airline in the world started? Boo hoo, Lufthansa.