The CEOs of two of the world’s so-called “disruptive” airlines, AirAsia and Qatar Airways, have urged the world’s governments to continue along the road towards liberalization, and not bow to “nationalistic” protectionism.
In an entertaining panel discussion at the ACTE-CAPA Global Summit in Amsterdam on Thursday, AirAsia’s Tony Fernandes and Qatar Airways’ Akbar Al Baker agreed that liberalizing the aviation industry is a positive and necessary shift that will help drive global tourism and economic growth.
They warned however, that there is still considerable opposition, mainly in Europe and the US.
The “bizarre” aviation sector, Fernandes said, is “probably the most regulated industry”. “It is liberalizing quite a lot, but threats are emerging,” he added.
Al Baker agreed that protectionism is “coming into play”. Gulf carriers, along Turkish Airlines and some Southeast Asian carriers, are being unfairly “targeted” by the EU, he said. Although he expressed a hope that “wise brains will prevail”, and (perhaps only half-jokingly) told European airlines that there is “no need to waste time challenging” rules that open up European skies to Gulf carriers.
And protectionism isn’t only a problem affecting Europe and the US, according to Fernandes. While the AirAsia chief said he is “very optimistic on China”, he noted that the rise of home-grown airlines is also leading to the “rise of nationalism”.
When foreign airlines succeed in a country, he said in relation to China, “governments feel the need to even out market share”.
“Governments should facilitate airlines, no matter where they are from,” Fernandes argued. He did praise however, the Chinese government’s “very progressive” outlook, especially with regards to airport development and providing hubs suited to low-cost carriers. In this area, Fernandes said, China is “ahead of the game”.
But while the theme of the discussion was about the drive towards liberalization, Al Baker ended with a quote that will perhaps not encourage European or American carriers to play ball.
“The biggest threat to legacy carriers [over the next 10 years] will be the quality and innovation of Gulf carriers,” he stated.
Source : Travel Daily Media