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Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker, who has a penchant for controversial statements, fired off a doozy at a news conference on Tuesday.

When Al Baker was asked about the lack of women in the aviation industry, he denied that gender parity was an issue in aviation. Then he took his comments a step further. In referring to his own job, he said, “Of course it has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position.”

Reportedly, the groans of disapproval were immediate and distinctly audible in the room where he was speaking at the International Air Transport Association’s annual meeting in Sydney, Australia.

Later Tuesday, Al Baker went on a back-pedaling media circuit, telling Bloomberg: “It would be my pleasure to have a female CEO candidate I could develop to become CEO after me,” he said. He also tried to play down the scale of his comments on the aptitude of his female employees. “I was only referring to one individual,” he said. “I was not referring to the staff in general.” Additionally, he continued to deny that there was any gender gap among Qatar’s employees, noting that 33% of Qatar’s employees are women.

Later in the day, Qatar released a formal statement in which Al Baker bizarrely tried to pass off the comments as a joke. “I am known in the media for some lightheartedness at press conferences,” the statement read in part, but went on to say that, “Qatar Airways firmly believes in gender equality in the workplace.” The statement also noted that Qatar was the first airline to employ female pilots, one of the first to train and employ female engineers, and it has “females represented through to senior vice president positions within the airline.”

Al Baker made the comments just moments after vowing to avoid controversial statements after becoming the chair of IATA’s board of governors, a 31-member top industry panel of which only two women are members.

H/T: The Guardian

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