The CEO of Qatar Airways says the blockade imposed on his country by its Gulf neighbors “will leave a lasting wound.”.
PARIS (AP) — The CEO of Qatar Airways said Monday that the blockade imposed on his country by Gulf neighbors “will leave a lasting wound” and that he expects rapid U.S. diplomatic intervention to resolve the standoff.
“People will not forget,” Akbar Al Baker told The Associated Press on the sidelines of the Paris Air Show. “People will have long, long memories and especially the way it has been done, where families are split, where children have been removed from school, when … loved ones have been taken away from their husbands and their wives. I think this generation, this entire generation, will never forget what happened.”
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain cut ties with Qatar this month and blocked air, sea and land traffic with Qatar over its support for Islamist groups and ties with Iran.
Al Baker said he expects U.S. President Donald Trump will intervene “to make sure that this blockade is lifted soonest and that life in our region comes backs to normal, especially since he knows that we are part of his alliance against terrorism and that we are a major player in his strategy in the region.”
He called the blockade illegal and said customers are returning to Qatar Airways and again using Qatar as an aviation hub after an initial hit to business.
“They don’t want Qatar to have an independent foreign policy. They want Qatar to be subservient to their policies and this is not going to happen,” he added.
“There has been monetary impact,” Chief Executive Akbar al Baker said in an interview onboard one of Qatar Airways’ 777 jets at the Paris Airshow on Monday.
“We have had a lot of cancellations, especially to the four countries that did this illegal blockade, but we have found new markets and this is our growth strategy,” he said, adding passengers were returning to the carrier after initially being deterred when the boycott started.
He said Qatar was not the only country affected by the crisis.
“All these countries have families on either side of the borders, they have relatives, children, investments. Eventually, people will realize that the move they have done against my country was ill-thought out and ill-advised and that life has to come back to normal,” he said.
Qatar is talking with the United Nations’ aviation agency, ICAO, about the airspace rights’ dispute, and Al Baker said he was disappointed with their actions thus far.
“I don’t think they have moved enough, I don’t think they have taken this matter very seriously,” he said.
He said Qatar Airways had plenty of growth opportunities elsewhere, citing new routes opening this month to Dublin, Skopje and Sarajevo as examples.
“We are not going to defer any of our aircraft … We are continuing our aircraft deliveries at the same pace as we are contractually obligated to do,” he said, adding Qatar was in talks to add more freighter capacity.
Al Baker said Qatar Airways still wanted to buy a stake in Italian carrier Meridiana, though there were “a few things to iron out.”
However, Qatar is not interested in struggling carrier Alitalia, which is in the process of seeking a buyer.
“We are not interested to look at the books because I know how it has been left behind by one of the airlines that was too keen to relaunch it and failed,” he said.
Separately, Qatar plans to set up a full-service Indian carrier to fly domestic routes with around 100 narrowbody planes after the country opened up the airline industry to foreign investors.
Al Baker said an application would be made for an operating licence soon, without giving a more precise timeframe.