Qatar Airways' mercurial CEO Akbar Al Baker is not lacking in a sense of humour. But more to the point, he is highly astute. He has led, and remarkably grown, Qatar Airways over 20 years, making His Excellency – "chief", or by his own words, "the dictator" – the longest serving top executive of a major airline.
So when Mr Al Baker, with immaculate timing, announces plans to spend USD2.4 billion for a 10% stake in American Airlines, whose CEO Doug Parker pushes back that the stake is unwanted, the odds of this surprising, bold and costly development are firmly in Mr Al Baker's favour. If, as seems likely, his vision is once again correct, and the American stake leads eventually to a joint venture, Mr Al Baker will achieve a strategic masterpiece with significant implications for airlines in the Gulf, Europe and North America.
North America is Qatar Airways' largest long-haul market, and the region is too fragmented to be served successfully without a deep partnership. Even better, regardless of the noisy rhetoric, US airlines have no interest in serving the markets that are core to Qatar and other Gulf airlines. But American Airlines' management itself and, more recently its unions, have embraced the Delta-led theatrics of the anti-Gulf airline campaign.
Despite American Airlines CEO Doug Parker's disavowal of Qatar Airways, the Gulf carrier is a recently admitted member of the oneworld alliance led by American - a membership that Mr Parker had the power to veto, but did not. Qatar will now hold "passive" significant minority shareholdings in three of oneworld's leading (and profitable) airlines: IAG, LATAM and now American. That seems to make a lot of sense.