Akbar Al Baker is the famously combative boss of Qatar Airways. He is happy to roundly criticise anyone at the drop of a hat – his own employees, aircraft manufacturers who are late delivering new aircraft, other airlines, airline alliances (until he decided to join one) and airports. On a bad day, he makes Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary look the essence of charm and diplomacy.
Executives at Heathrow Airport have grown used to Mr Al Baker’s outbursts but must have become a little nervous when he was suddenly made a director of the airport, following a purchase of 20% of the company by Qatar’s sovereign investment fund. Mr Al Baker already has experience in managing airports since he is in charge of the new Doha International Airport which is about to open.
The new Doha airport is actually much-delayed already. There have been some serious construction issues and – predictably – Mr Al Baker has been at pains to blame lazy and incompetent foreign contractors. Some of the delays appear to have been down to constantly changing demands for the design which are rumoured to have come from the Emir himself which might explain Mr Al Baker’s relatively sanguine acceptance of the years of delay.
At the start of this year, everything seemed to be back on track. The plan was for the airport to open now with some smaller airlines being moved immediately and the major airlines moved later in the year when all the premium Lounges and other facilities have been completed. Unfortunately, the “soft opening” has been cancelled at short notice and the airport is now delayed “indefinitely”.
It seems the Qatar safety authorities are not prepared to accept the building for public use. They strengthened the requirements for public buildings following a fire in a mall last year which killed nineteen people. Unfortunately, those in charge of the new airport must have been unaware that the rules would apply to them. There is no mention of how much work will be needed to bring the airport up to a proper specification but the fact that no time-frame is being given suggests the alterations will be serious.
The Qataris are in danger of making those in charge of the new Brandenburg Airport in Berlin look almost competent.
Meanwhile, the other directors and executives at Heathrow, with its redeveloped Terminal Two on-time and on-budget, might want to offer their newest director some advice on how to run an airport.