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One of the most powerful men in aviation apologized for his suggestion that a woman would not be equipped to do his job.
Shortly after his appointment as the new chair of the International Air Transport Association's (IATA) board of governors, Akbar Al Baker, reportedly stunned reporters when asked about poor representation of women in Middle East aviation.
"Of course, it has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position," said Al Baker, referring to his own role as CEO of Qatar Airways.
In a statement provided to CNBC, Al Baker said: "I would like to offer my heartfelt apologies for any offence caused by my comment yesterday, which runs counter to my track record of expanding the role of women in leadership throughout the Qatar Airways Group and has been sensationalised by the media."
The chief executive said women make up 44 percent of the company's workforce and "the dedication, drive and skill they bring to their jobs tells me that no role is too tough for them, at all levels of the organisation."
In fact, he said, Qatar Airways "firmly believes in gender equality in the workplace," and he noted that the airline women are represented in its ranks of pilots and and engineers — through to the position of senior vice president.
"Qatar Airways is made stronger by its female employees for whom I hold nothing but the highest regard," he said. "I support all IATA initiatives to promote the advancement of women in our industry, and I am a strong advocate for these and will continue to be moving forward."
Speaking to Bloomberg Television after his initial comment, Al Baker attempted to soften his position. "I was only referring to one individual," he said. "I was not referring to the staff in general."
Al Baker then said he would welcome a female executive to succeed him at Qatar Airways.