Qatar Airways boss apologizes for remarks on women CEOs

Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al-Baker, foreground, took back his comments on why women could not do his job, for which International Air Transport Association chief executive Alexandre de Juniac, background, said the airline chief has expressed his apologies. (AFP)
Updated 06 June 2018

Qatar Airways boss apologizes for remarks on women CEOs

SYDNEY: The head of Qatar Airways apologized on Wednesday for saying that a woman could not do his job, while global airlines pledged to speed up efforts to break down gender imbalances in aviation.
Qatar Airways Chief Executive Akbar Al-Baker said his remarks at the closing of a global airlines gathering on Tuesday had been intended as a joke and taken out of context.
He defended his airline’s record of gender diversity, saying 44 percent of its staff were female including some in senior positions.
“Quite frankly I think the press took it out of context. They ... blew it out of proportion. It was just a joke...I apologize for it,” Al-Baker told a CAPA-Center for Aviation conference in Sydney.
Asked on Tuesday about female employment among Middle East airlines and why his job as CEO could not be done by a woman, Al-Baker had said: “Of course it has to be led by a man because it is a very challenging position.”
He made the comments at a news conference following a meeting of airlines group International Air Transport Association (IATA), moments after being elected its chairman.
The remarks drew criticism on social media.
The issue of gender imbalance in aviation was a hot topic at the three-day annual meeting of IATA — only six of whose 280-member airlines, or 2 percent, have female chief executives.
Al-Baker later said Qatar Airways was the first carrier in the Middle East to have female pilots.
On Wednesday, the director-general of IATA noted that Al-Baker had earlier apologized for his comments.
“But the immediate reaction illustrated that expectations for change are high. And it is absolutely clear that aviation has a lot of work to do on gender balance at senior levels,” Alexandre de Juniac added in a blog on IATA’s website.
Al-Baker is one of the airline industry’s most outspoken figures, known for provocative and often humorous criticism of rival airlines or suppliers, but he has also drawn criticism over the judgment of some of his declarations.
In 2017 he apologized after calling US flight attendants “grandmothers” during a trade row with US airlines, prompting an airline union to accuse him of sexism and age discrimination.
In 2014, Qatar Airways defended policies on pregnancy and marriage for cabin crew after coming under fire over working conditions in the conservative Gulf emirate.
Asked at Wednesday’s CAPA conference whether he truly believed that only a man could do his job, Al-Baker said, “No, I don’t believe that. As a matter of fact (at) Air Italy the majority shareholder has shortlisted women to be CEO and as minority shareholder we are actively encouraging that.”
Sharing a podium, Willie Walsh, the head of British Airways owner IAG, said the industry had a long way to go in promoting women, starting with IATA, a quasi-international organization with two women on its 31-person board.
“This whole debate should encourage more,” Walsh said.
“If you look at the board it is predominantly middle-aged white men from Europe. We have more diversity on the board now than we have had for a long time, and we have to strive to improve that situation.”
Al-Baker pledged to bring more women onto IATA’s board, but said there had been few applicants. Board members must be a CEO. IATA says just 3 percent of airlines have a female leader.
Delegates said seats are also divided up by region, meaning some national airlines may have to release influential board seats to favor a female candidate from their own region, but a woman in one region could not benefit from a vacancy in another.
“Bridging the gap at senior levels will not be simple,” de Juniac wrote.
The gender row comes amid a deeper debate about whether airlines based on different national social models, recruitment policies and wage structures can compete on equal terms.
US and some European airlines have accused Gulf carriers of unfair competition based on subsidies and social policies, but Walsh — whose group counts Qatar Airways as a shareholder — said he believed Gulf airlines competed on an equal footing.


Oil slumps more than 4% on coronavirus fears

Updated 28 February 2020

Oil slumps more than 4% on coronavirus fears

  • Traders fret about impact of spreading virus on crude demand, particularly from China

LONDON: World oil prices tumbled by more than 4 percent on Thursday, as traders fretted about the impact of spreading coronavirus on crude demand, particularly from key consumer China.

Brent oil for April delivery tanked almost 4.2 percent to $51.20 per barrel, while New York’s WTI crude for the same month dived nearly 5 percent to $46.31.

“Concerns that the virus will prompt a global slowdown, weaker consumer confidence and reduced travel has raised concerns about lower demand, weighing on prices,” said CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson.

Investors are growing increasingly fearful about the economic impact of the new coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak. 

The virus continues to spread meanwhile, with Brazil reporting Latin America’s first case, and Denmark, Estonia, Greece, Georgia, Norway and Pakistan following suit.

Around 2,800 people have died in China and more than 80,000 have been infected. There have been more than 50 deaths and 3,600 cases in dozens of other countries, raising fears of a pandemic.

The spread of the virus to large economies including South Korea, Japan and Italy has raised concerns that growth in fuel demand will be limited. 

Consultants Facts Global Energy forecast oil demand would grow by 60,000 barrels per day in 2020, a level it called “practically zero,” due to the outbreak.

US President Donald Trump sought to assure Americans on Wednesday evening that the risk from coronavirus remained “very low,” but global equities resumed their plunge, wiping out more than $3 trillion in value this week alone.

“The negative price impact would intensify if the coronavirus were declared pandemic by the World Health Organization, something that looks imminent,” said PVM Oil Associates analyst Tamas Varga.

“The mood is gloomy and the end of the tunnel is not in sight – there is no light ahead just darkness. Not even a refreshingly positive weekly US oil report was able to lend price support.”

Gasoline stockpiles dropped by 2.7 million barrels in the week to Feb. 21 to 256.4 million, the Energy Information Administration (EIA) said on Wednesday, amid a decline in refinery throughput. Distillate inventories fell by 2.1 million barrels to 138.5 million.

US crude oil stockpiles increased by 452,000 barrels to 443.3 million barrels, the EIA said, which was less than the 2-million-barrel rise analysts had expected.

The crude market is watching for possible deeper output cuts by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies including Russia, a group known as OPEC+.

“Oil is in freefall as the magnitude of global quarantine efforts will provide severe demand destruction for the next couple of quarters,” said Edward Moya, senior market analyst at OANDA. 

“Expectations are growing for OPEC+ to deliver deeper production cuts next week.”

OPEC+ plans to meet in Vienna on March 5-6.