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For a man more accustomed to castigating his European rivals, Akbar al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, caught many observers off guard at this year's Arabian Travel Market. Far from berating Willie Walsh, the CEO of British Airways, al Baker heaped praise on his competitor, describing him as a "good friend" and hailing his uncompromising management style.
“I respect what he did for British Airways,” the Qatari fawned, in reference to the 2010 cabin crew strikes. “He stood up to the unions and won at a very difficult time. And he doesn’t badmouth the competition. I always say that if you cannot defeat someone, you should make an ally of them.”
Al Baker’s conspicuously chummy tone did not come entirely out of the blue. Walsh, in contrast to many European counterparts, has long given credit to the Gulf carriers. Two years ago, for example, he accused neighbouring legacy airlines of preferring to “bitch and moan” about Gulf competitors, rather than getting their own houses in order. But even so, camaraderie between the Gulf and Europe has until recently been a rare sight in aviation circles...