Dubai: Qatar Airways, the Middle East’s second-biggest airline, is once again flirting with releasing its financial results, this time after a 16-month campaign by US carriers over subsidy allegations.
In 2014, Qatar Airways group chief executive Akbar Al Baker said the state-owned airline would release its financials before the end of the third quarter that year. That never happened.
This week, Al Baker is once again flirting with the idea, telling reporters on Monday they would be out by June when its “last financial year audit is complete”. A similar comment was made two years ago.
But the disclosure of those numbers might not be up to him.
“The problem with us is we’re a government-owned entity. We have to take permission from our Ministry of Finance,” Al Baker told reporters in Dubai yesterday at the Arabian Travel Market.
The State of Qatar took full ownership of Qatar Airways in 2013 when its investment vehicle, the Qatar Sovereign Wealth Fund, bought out former Prime Minister Shaikh Hamad Bin Jasem Al Thani and other private investors. The size and values of the stakes have never been revealed. Qatar Airways has never released its financials, and although Al Baker has said the airline is profitable, releasing the figures could help dismiss allegations that the airline is state-subsidised.
American, United and Delta last year accused Qatar Airways and other Gulf carriers of being unfairly propped up by state subsides and asked their government to step in and take action. Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways, the other Gulf carriers, deny the allegations.
The complaints against the Gulf carriers, which largely played out in the international press last year, have softened so far this year with Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways waiting to see if the US government will take any action.
“I think at the end of the day the administration will understand that what we bring to the United States is in the interest of the public,” Al Baker said.
While the war of words between the Gulf and American carriers may have eased, Al Baker appeared to want to reignite the argument ahead of a major meeting of many of the world’s airlines in June.
Al Baker said Delta’s incoming president, Glen Hauenstein, must have been “sniffing glue” when he said “less than five people a day” will fly on Qatar Airways new Doha-Atlanta route that launches on June 1.
Delta stopped flying from Atlanta to Dubai earlier this year, blaming “overcapacity on US routes to the Middle East operated by government-owned and heavily subsidised airlines.”
Al Baker also weighed in on the US presidential election, telling the audience Republican nominee candidate Donald Trump “is my friend”, but stopped short of endorsing him.
“I don’t endorse extremist views,” he later told reporters.
Trump, who is leading the race to become the Republican nominee, has made a number of xenophobic policy statements in his campaign, including banning all Muslims from the US.
“All of this is just to win the election … [if] he gets elected I’m willing to bet with anyone in the audience that all the policies he is saying he will introduce, he won’t,” Al Baker said.
The Qatar Airways chief said a Trump administration is unlikely to be adversarial towards Gulf carriers, arguing that Trump would “always promote business and competition”.