Qatar Airways Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker said many airlines will go bust as the coronavirus outbreak ravages demand for travel, limiting the scope for takeovers.
While the Gulf carrier is open to acting on any investment opportunities that present themselves, the pandemic is likely to lead to the immediate collapse of some operators, Al Baker said Thursday on Bloomberg Television.
“There will be nothing left for consolidation because a lot of airlines will go belly up,” he said. “In this very difficult period, it will only be the survival of the fittest.”
The future shape of the industry depends on which airlines take “very clever, prudent decisions,” he added. Al Baker’s comments echo warnings from the International Air Transport Association that only about 30 airlines worldwide have reasonably healthy balance sheets, and that even those probably have enough cash to survive only for a matter of months.
The CEO said Qatar Airways, which is state-owned, will seek government support alongside all other airlines, and that the crisis should end the conflict between carriers over whether some have benefited from illegal subsidies.
“People that were bragging about not taking state aid and being independent are now themselves all over the world asking for state aid,” he said. Some U.S. carriers have accused Gulf operators of receiving unfair government backing.
Al Baker said that though revenue has dropped 80% as the coronavirus spreads, Qatar Airways is planning no further traffic cuts. The carrier is operating around one-third of its usual schedule — whereas Mideast rivals Emirates and Etihad have completely terminated passenger flights.
“Such a pandemic never happened for the last 100 years,” he said. “We will have to stand up to it and we will have to persevere.”