Heathrow airport should have dealt with flight schedules, according to one of its own directors.
London’s Heathrow airport should have better calculated the disruption to flights this summer and provided airlines with a notice of the need to curtail schedules, Qatar Airways CEO and one of Heathrow airport directors, Akbar Al Baker, told Bloomberg.
Representing the Mideast state’s sovereign wealth fund on the Heathrow board, Al Baker told Bloomberg Television he understood that the hub is confronted with staffing problems, however was “disappointed” by its lack of foresight.
“Heathrow has the right to restrict your flight because they cannot overload their facilities,” he said in an interview at the Farnborough International Airshow on Monday.
“But my question to the management would be, they should have seen this coming and they should have taken mitigating actions.”
The airline giant’s CEO said it is difficult for him to disclose details regarding Heathrow due to his status as board member, while also refusing to comment on the airport’s management or the future of CEO John Holland-Kaye.
The comments came after Heathrow made a decision last week to implement a two-month cap on daily passenger traffic to inhibit travel havoc prompted by staffing shortages in key areas such as ground handling.
The move, which saw thousands of bags pile up at the airport, “angered” airlines that were forced to clear out flights during the peak summer season.
One such frustration was echoed by UAE flag carrier Emirates President Tim Clark who suggested he would abstain from adhering to those restrictions before ultimately reaching an agreement.
Al Baker said ideally airlines need to be informed of curbs three months in advance as passengers usually book July flights in March, noting stopping flights just weeks before “has cost implications.”
However, while Heathrow has asked some airlines to cut flights, it has only requested a reduction in passenger loads for Qatar Airways.
Meanwhile, the Gulf carrier’s CEO blamed the “staffing crunch” on an “epidemic” cultivated as part of a post-pandemic inclination for better paid jobs or a work-from-home situation that has gained a troubling momentum in Europe, namely Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.
However, the Qatari flag carrier has not faced such recruitment issue and has received 20,000 applications for 700 open pilot posts, with interest pouring in from all over the world, except the United States.
Nevertheless, the Qatar Airways grapples with other supply problems, including the availability of spare planes, Al Baker noted. This case pushed the carrier to minimise the utilisation of aircraft and keep an Airbus A380 superjumbo in a constant state of standby.
While the fleet shortage predicament may spillover to the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar, the stakes Qatar Airways owns in carriers could supply it with needed capacity, should the situation demand it.
Described as an “exceptionally rare” public conflict in the aviation industry, the legal dispute between Qatar Airways and Airbus over the A350 wide-body jets remains under discussion between opposing sides.
Al Baker said he is still open to reaching a settlement regarding the case but has not “seen a proposal to fix the issue that would be acceptable both to his airline and the Qatari air-safety regulator,” Bloomberg reported.
In the interview, the CEO emphasised Airbus’ ‘illegal’ move of abandoning a separate contract for A321neo supply, said he is currently awaiting the court’s final verdict, with which Qatar Airways will comply.
Qatar Airways and Boeing’s 777x Order
Meanwhile, the head of Qatar Airways confirmed on Monday that a memorandum of understanding to purchase at least 25 Boeing 737 MAX planes and options for 25 additional planes had lapsed but is mulling increasing its Boeing 777X order.
The airline has 74 of the planes on order with Boeing, Al Baker said during a briefing at the Farnborough air show Monday.
However, the US planemaker’s 777X jets is years behind schedule and bogged in production and certification issues.