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Qatar Airways CEO warns of years of air travel disruption

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The chief executive of Qatar Airways has warned that disruption across the aviation industry will last for years as companies recover from the effects of the pandemic.

“Covid has damaged the supply chain of the industry . . . I think that it will last for a couple of years — it is not going to go away tomorrow,” Akbar Al Baker said in an interview.

Labour shortages in Europe, delays in aircraft deliveries from manufacturers and a lack of spare parts had all affected Qatar Airways, he added.

Guillaume Faury, chief executive of the world’s largest plane maker Airbus, last week said he expected supply chain issues to continue into next year, with manufacturers facing shortages of raw materials, spare parts and electronic components.

In the case of Qatar Airways, it is the staff shortages in Europe that are having the greatest impact, Al Baker said, because of disruption to flights that is having knock-on effects on the airline’s Doha hub.

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This month Heathrow airport imposed an unprecedented passenger cap on airlines to try to avoid more disruption, drawing a furious reaction from Qatar’s regional rival Emirates.

Al Baker sits on the board of London’s Heathrow as a representative of the Qatari sovereign wealth fund, a shareholder in the airport. He criticised Heathrow for not giving airlines more warning about the passenger cap, which he said was “very difficult to digest”.

But he added that the problems were systemic across Europe, and not only at Heathrow. Qatar Airways is also the largest shareholder in International Airlines Group, which owns British Airways, making Al Baker an influential figure in UK aviation.

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He has previously been outspoken in his criticism of BA, but offered his full support to the airline’s chief executive Sean Doyle. BA has suffered some of the worst disruptions this summer.

“IAG has a huge potential, and I’m sure that in a not too long time they will turn around and be what they were pre-pandemic,” he said. “Keep in mind that they are doing a lot to improve standards and services,” he added.

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IAG’s shares are trading at about 70 per cent below their pre-pandemic levels, and BA has been forced to cancel about 30,000 flights this year because of its own staffing problems and disruption at airports.

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Al Baker has also been involved in a legal battle with Airbus this year over an allegation that one of its best-selling planes, the A350 wide-body, is defective because of damage to its surface.

He said the dispute, which is being heard in London’s courts, will not stop him from buying more Airbus aircraft in the future. The manufacturer has said its aircraft are safe, pointing out that no other operator of the jets had grounded their planes.

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ft.com

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