Qatar Airways chief Akbar Al Baker says the blockade by its neighbours is making his country and his airline stronger.

At a media briefing following the launch of services to Canberra, he said attempts at ''regime change'' by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt had failed.

''What did it achieve? Intimidation, no; bringing my country to our knees, no; taking us away from our neighbours, no. Most importantly, it made Qatar more independent,'' said Al Baker, who has headed one of Qatar's most powerful businesses for 21 years.

''When you look at it in a nutshell, our adversaries have failed to achieve what they wanted to achieve in this blockade. Qatar Airways will keep on growing and expanding and the Qatari people will always stand one inch higher with pride and dignity,'' he said.


''At least we got to know who are our friends and who would support us during this difficult time.''

Asked later by the Herald whether New Zealand was a friend, he said: ''The government of New Zealand realises that what happened to Qatar is not acceptable in international civilised behaviour and should not support illegal acts against a sovereign, independent country.''

The deep political and diplomatic rift blew wide open last June when air, land and sea links were cut as Qatar was accused of funding terrorism, a charge that has been denied.
The boycott is also put down to neighbouring states' concern about the growing economic muscle of gas-rich Qatar, and coverage of the region by satellite news channel Al Jazeera, based in Qatar's capital Doha.

It has also been reported as having the characteristics of a family feud - Qataris, Saudis and Emiratis originate from the same nomadic tribes, have the same religion and share much of the same culture.

Marwan Koleilat, Qatar Airways senior vice president and chief executive Akbar Al Baker. Photo / Greg Bowker
Marwan Koleilat, Qatar Airways senior vice president and chief executive Akbar Al Baker. Photo / Greg Bowker

Al Baker said the closing of air space was an ''inconvenience'', adding up to 15 minutes to the flight time of some services as they take longer routes through Turkey and Iran, but the action will take a heavy financial toll on the airline which overnight lost much of its high-yielding regional market.

From a record profit of more than US$541 million ($734m) last year, the airline is heading for a loss this year.

But it is still expanding its fleet of 200 aircraft, taking delivery of a new aircraft every 10 days, on average, as part of a huge order book over the next eight years worth US$92 billion at list prices. The airline already flies to 150 places and 11 new destinations have been launched since the blockade was imposed.

''We have delivered," said Al Baker. "Our country has persevered, our country has become stronger post blockade - that was not expected by our adversaries.''


Read more: Why Qatar came to NZ

Al Baker, who describes himself as outspoken, recounted the origins of the airline, which now consistently tops SKYTRAX customer polls.

When it was launched in 1990 it was a ''small, backyard airline'' with five dilapidated planes and the average fleet age was over 22 years. (That has now fallen to five years old).

A Qatar Airways Boeing 777 at Auckland Airport. Photo / Supplied
A Qatar Airways Boeing 777 at Auckland Airport. Photo / Supplied

''I became the CEO in 1997 and relaunched Qatar Airways — peers in our region discounted me. They said this was all about talk, there was no substance and an airline from a small country cannot survive against big players in the region.''

Those included Gulf Air, Emirates, Saudi Arabian Airlines and Middle East Airlines.

''At that time I was only talking very humbly, saying people didn't have to be worried about Qatar Airways - it will only have 35 airplanes and only have 35 destinations.

''Of course that was a smokescreen for what was my plan for my country because I had a very clear mandate from my ruler.''
• Grant Bradley travelled to Canberra courtesy of Qatar Airways