SYDNEY -- Shortly after assuming the position of chairman of
the IATA board of governors Tuesday, outspoken Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker
joked at press briefing that the most important thing he could do in his new
role was to try and control his tendency to make controversial statements.
Less than 10 minutes later, Al Baker's loose tongue got the
best of him.
Asked by a reporter about the lack of women in leadership
positions at Middle East airlines, Al Baker began to explain that Qatar has
lots of women employees when the reporter cut him off to point out that the
airline is led by him -- a man.
"Of course, it's led by a man, because it's a very
challenging position," Al Baker responded.
The comment was greeted by a combination of jeers and
laughter. But a few minutes later Al Baker took a more diplomatic approach to
the topic, saying that Qatar was the first Middle Eastern carrier to have a
staff comprised of more than 33% women. Qatar's female employees include
pilots, engineers and reach as high as the senior vice president level. "So,
we actually encourage women and we see that they have huge potential in senior
management positions," he said.
Al Baker will serve as IATA chairman for a year. He drew
fire last summer when he called U.S. flight attendants "grandmothers"
and told an audience that Qatar flight attendants, in contrast, average just 26
years of age.