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Qatar Airways CEO apologises after saying his airline “has to be led by a man”

Qatar Airways CEO apologises after saying his airline “has to be led by a man”

It is not the first time the Qatar Airways CEO has attracted controversy for his comments regarding women

The CEO of Qatar Airways Akbar Al Baker was forced into an awkward apology on Wednesday after telling reporters his airline “has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position”.

The comment came in response to a question about how the aviation industry in the Middle East could increase its representation of women at an International Air Transport Association (IATA) event in Sydney where Al Baker was named the new chairman of the organisation’s board.

Al Baker first dismissed his words as “just a joke”, according to reports. “Everybody laughed. I thought that was the end of the story,” he was quoted as saying.

But the CEO later issued the apology amid growing negative publicity surrounding the incident.

“I would like to offer my heartfelt apologies for any offense caused by my comment yesterday, which runs counter to my track record of expanding the role of women in leadership throughout the Qatar Airways Group,” he said in an emailed statement.

When asked at a CAPA conference on Wednesday whether he truly believed only a man could do his job, Al Baker offered a different response.

“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,” he said, according to Reuters.

The CEO also pledged to bring more women onto IATA’s board, but admitted there were few applicants as just 3 per cent of airlines are led by a female. IATA only allows CEOs on its 31-person board and only two members are women at present.

It is not the first time the Qatar Airways CEO has attracted controversy for his comments regarding women.

Last year, American Airlines accused him of being “sexist and ageist” after remarking at an event in Dublin that the average age of his cabin crew was 26 compared to US carriers where “you are always being served by grandmothers”.

American’s vice president of flight service, Jill Surdek, described the comments as “incredibly offensive” in a message to employees, according to reports.

Read: American accuses Qatar Airways CEO of being “sexist and ageist” after comments

“It was both sexist and ageist at the same time,” she added.

In 2015, Qatar Airways relaxed its cabin crew policies after being accused of discriminating against female employees and violating international agreements by a UN body.

Read: Qatar Airways eases cabin crew policies on marriage and pregnancy

The International Labour Organization criticised the airline’s policies regarding terminating contracts of pregnant women and prohibiting women being dropped off or picked up from the company by a man other than their father, brother or husband, according to Reuters.

Qatar Airways is said to have made a “substantial loss” in its last financial year after a regional boycott that prevented it from using the airspace of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt.

It has been blocked from flying to 18 cities across the four countries.

Read: Qatar Airways posts “substantial” loss amid regional dispute

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