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Mon 7 Nov 2016 11:05 AM

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Qatar Airways CEO urges new freedom flights amid EU competition debate

Brussels should permit Europe-wide aviation agreements with Gulf carriers, says Akbar Al Baker

Qatar Airways CEO urges new freedom flights amid EU competition debate
Chief Executive Officer of Qatar Airways, Akbar Al Baker. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, has made a renewed plea for liberalisation of European aviation routes as Brussels continues its debate on “fair competition”.

The European Commission (EC) has a mandate to discuss the formation of Europe-wide air traffic agreements with countries including the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, China and Turkey.

It began talks earlier this year aimed at drafting provisions to ensure fair competition and weed out unfair practices outside the bloc.

The UAE and Qatar are expected to produce the most contentious negotiations because of the continued rapid growth of their airlines.

Qatar has been the first of the two to partake in the latest round of talks, with discussions held between the European Union (EU) and Qatar in September.

Al Baker said last month that Qatar’s role in the talks was to ensure that the EU’s planned fair competition clauses do not disadvantage the carrier.

The CEO gave a keynote speech at the Centre for Aviation (CAPA)-ACTE’s Global Aviation Summit in Amsterdam this week and addressed the topic of the EU’s mandate.

According to CAPA, Al Baker called for unquestionable third and fourth and eventually fifth freedom liberalisation of European routes for Gulf carriers.

He told the conference: “Our goal is very simple: to gradually and surely open the skies between the remaining restrictive European markets and my country, Qatar.

“Markets should be open to each other at least for third and fourth freedom rights, with eventual fifth freedom flying rights granted.”

However, he expressed concern that the EU would define an overly “abstract” fair competition clause that could be used against the Gulf airlines. At the same time, the Brexit referendum could result in the EU negotiating side losing the UK, whose liberal views have balanced those of more protectionist countries such as France and Germany.

“I expect we will spend quite a bit of time exploring the meaning of the EC’s list of terms regarding ‘fair competition’, Al Baker told the summit. “We want to make sure that it is not biased and not cornering the competition from my region.”

He added: “We approach the principal of fair competition very simply: fair access to markets, competing for market share based on products and services of what the customer wants and is willing to purchase.”

However, he noted that the talks would be controversial: “Europe is home to some of the world’s oldest and most respected airlines with a history of competing fiercely, and not always aligned with the spread of fair competition.”

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