The IATA Annual General Meeting has been going on in Miami the past several days, which is one of the most attended events by airline industry executives.
You’d expect this would be one of the most controversial meetings yet, given the squabble between the US carriers and Gulf carriers, which is almost unprecedented in terms of vitriol.
Yesterday we saw Qatar Airways’ CEO, Akbar Al Baker, threaten to leave the oneworld alliance. Furthermore, he threatened retaliatory protectionism to any government which blocks Qatar Airways’ growth. Akbar Al Baker has virtually no filter, so all things considered I guess you could say he was on his best behavior at the AGM. 😉
Almost inarguably the most well spoken and bright CEO of a Gulf carrier is Tim Clark, who is the CEO of Emirates. He’s extremely well spoken. So far he has been measured in what he has said about the Open Skies debate:
- Clark has spoken candidly about Open Skies, in a factual but confident manner
- Emirates released The International And Government Affairs Journal Of Emirates, which sort of schooled the US carriers
Well, Clark had some choice words for the US carriers at the AGM the past couple of days. Via SkyWriter Aviation (bolding mine):
We asked Clark whether he thinks the US3’s campaign to block the Gulf carriers in getting traction with the US government. His response: “This is the most destructive campaign in the history of civil aviation, as far as I’m concerned. That’s why I think it needs to be dealt with at the highest levels of the US government. We’re a family in this business – we’re hugely competitive, but we tend to be friends. This has kind of shifted a little bit. When people state that they don’t want you on the planet, they don’t want you around anymore, then this [becomes] a fight to the death. They’re actually messing with the wrong people. We haven’t taken Emirates from nothing to where it is today, just to be seen off the block by somebody who is anxious to employ such tactics.”
How does Clark respond to American’s CEO, Doug Parker, claiming that this is really a fight between governments and not between airlines?
In response to American CEO Doug Parker’s comment earlier today that “this is a dispute between governments, not between us as airlines,” Clark fired back: “It’s totally and utterly smoke and mirrors. Believe nothing. These guys are out to take us down, and they have a fight on their hands. It’s not of our making. They’re dealing with the wrong people. This isn’t some minnow in Africa or Asia. That’s not going to happen here. We’re too big. We have a $37 billion balance sheet. We turn over nearly $30 billion a year. If you think we’re going to get pushed around by them, you’re not serious. I didn’t want this, and neither did [Etihad CEO] James Hogan. It was brought to us, and it has been constant. It has been threatening, it has been intimidatory, and frankly it’s a disgrace as far as I am concerned. It’s destabilizing the industry.”
And here’s why Clark thinks it’s important for this debate to take place at IATA, even though they don’t want it to:
Why IATA doesn’t want the debate and why Clark thinks it’s important: “It’s a difficult one for IATA [to mediate] – ‘it’s not my problem, so don’t bring it here.’ But it’s not just about us – it’s about the industry. When these kinds of tactics are going to be used, it’s almost a paradigm shift in how you go about your business. I’ve been in the business for over 40 years, and I’ve only seen this once before. There was a guy who called Freddie Laker and, before there were anti-trust laws, the European and American carriers ganged up and brought him down because they sold all their seats for nothing. They can’t do that now.”
While Al Baker is all talk, Clark is someone who is very disciplined in what he says. Clark calling this a “fight to the death” is no small matter. Now we just have to wait for Emirates to announce hourly A380 service between Atlanta and Dubai. 😉