The chief of Qatar Airways will soon hold a key leadership position at one of the world’s largest airline trade bodies.
CEO Akbar Al Baker was elected to head the board of governors of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) this week.
He will assume the position for a year starting in June 2018.
In a statement, Al Baker thanked the board for their confidence in him.
In a nod to the ongoing Gulf dispute, he also pledged to uphold “freedom of flight for all” during his term:
“For more than two decades I have lived and breathed aviation, and I look forward to working alongside the Board of Governors to champion passenger rights and improve security standards across the industry, as well as continuing to promote the rights of freedom of flight for all.”
Al Baker will preside over fellow board members with whom he has had a contentious relationship, including the CEOs of American Airlines and EgyptAir, as well as the director general of Saudi Arabian Airlines.
The IATA represents the interests of 275 airlines around the world that account for 83 percent of global air traffic.
It also carries out security audits of airlines, offers consulting and training and pushes for greater safety in global aviation.
The group does not usually get involved in political disputes. But it recently spoke out when Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt halted all flights to and from Qatar.
“Of course we accept that countries have the right to close their borders,” IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac said in June. “But connectivity with Qatar must be restored as quickly as possible.”
The UN’s civil aviation body also urged Gulf states to honor their air agreements with Qatar.
But so far, this has only resulted in the opening of a few emergency corridors to Qatar Airways – and a stern warning to avoid breaching sovereign airspace.
This means the airline continues to have to take more circuitous routes to avoid their neighbors’ airspace, resulting in longer flying times and the burning of more fuel.