The boss of Qatar Airways has apologised for saying that a woman could not do his job.
Akbar Al Baker said on Tuesday that the airline had to be led by a man “because it is a very challenging position”.
He later defended Qatar Airways’ record on gender diversity, but that failed to quell the criticism.
On Wednesday, he told Reuters: “I didn’t mean it in the way it was meant to be… I apologise for it.”
However, Mr al Baker added that his remarks were taken out of context and blown out of proportion by the media.
His original comments were made at the annual conference in Sydney of the aviation industry’s trade body, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), only six of whose 280 airline members have female chief executives.
The remarks were particularly sensitive because gender imbalance in the industry was a theme of the conference, where Mr al Baker officially took over as IATA’s chairman.
Asked at Tuesday’s news conference about female employment among Middle East airlines and whether his job could be done by a woman, Mr al Baker said: “Of course it has to be led by a man because it is a very challenging position”.
His comment reportedly prompted groans and boos.
On Wednesday, the airline boss said: “Quite frankly I think the press took it out of context. They – blew it out of proportion. It was just a joke. I didn’t mean it in the way it was meant to be… I apologise for it,”
Mr al Baker has a reputation for making blunt and often humorous comments, but they can also backfire.
In 2017 he apologised after calling US flight attendants “grandmothers” during a trade row with US airlines, prompting an airline union to accuse him of sexism and age discrimination.
Asked at Wednesday’s he truly believed that only a man could do his job, Mr al Baker said, “No, I don’t believe that. As a matter of fact (at) Air Italy the majority shareholder has shortlisted women to be the CEO and as a minority shareholder we are actively encouraging that.”