The new chairman of the International Air Transport Association embarrasses his colleagues.
In an era where some airlines are trying to attract more women as pilots and for senior management, parts of the industry still seem to be stuck in the past – right up to the new chairman of the International Air Transport Association.
Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways – and just sworn in as the new chairman of the IATA Board of Governors for a one-year term – said his job could only be done by a man.
“Of course it has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position,” he said during IATA’s annual meeting, which prompted shouts and groans from the assembled crowd, according to CNN and the BBC.
Gender equality in this male-dominated sector was a major theme at the IATA event.
Al Baker then tried to walk back his comments, saying “we actually encourage women. We see that they have huge potential in doing senior management positions.”
This is not the first time the Qatar Airways boss has sparked controversy, the BBC recalls. Last year, he apologised after describing US flight attendants as “grandmothers” compared to the young Qatar cabin crew.
By contrast at the IATA event, both Willie Walsh, chief executive of IAG, and Alan Joyce, the gay CEO of Qantas Airways, said that having a diverse workforce could boost profits but admitted that efforts to attract more women had been slow.
IATA unveiled its new Board of Governors at its 74th Annual General Meeting in Sydney, where it was also announced that Carsten Spohr, chief executive of Lufthansa, would serve as the board’s chairman from June 2019, following Al Baker’s term. In the full list of the board, which includes Rickard Gustafson, president and CEO of SAS, only one of the 31 airline chiefs is a woman, namely Christine Ourmières-Widener, CEO of Flybe.