Qatar Airways CEO claims Singapore copied Doha airport: ‘Without having to go to anybody’s Jewel, you can sustain yourself in the jewel of my country’

Does the new design for Doha’s Hamad International Airport (left) look familiar? Its CEO Akbar Al Baker claims Jewel Changi Airport ripped it off.
Facebook/Hamad International Airport, Business Insider/Rachel Chia

Months after opening to worldwide fanfare and welcoming over 50 million visitors to-date, Singapore’s dreamy Jewel Changi Airport mall has been accused of being a rip-off.

The allegations reportedly came from Qatar Airways’ outspoken CEO Akbar Al Baker, who is also CEO of Hamad International Airport, as he introduced ambitious expansion plans for the Doha airport.

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Slated for completion in 2022, the expanded Hamad International Airport (HIA) will have a “10,000 sqm indoor tropical garden in a central concourse” and a 268 sqm water feature, HIA said in a statement released on October 22.

The indoor tropical garden will be housed under a column-free, long-span 85m grid shell roof with performance glass, the statement said.

The expanded Hamad International Airport will have a “10,000 sqm indoor tropical garden in a central concourse” and a 268 sqm water feature.
Facebook/Hamad International Airport

If all that sounds familiar, Al Baker has offered an explanation.

According to Executive Traveller, a travel-focused news and reviews site, Al Baker said the design for HIA was already in the works six years ago, and was stolen by people from another unnamed country on the team.

“Somebody copied our design, which was already on the table six years ago,” he was quoted as saying.

“We had individuals from that country, I will not name it, who took that and did it (themselves),” he reportedly said.

“Somebody copied our design, which was already on the table six years ago,” CEO Akbar Al Baker reportedly said.
Facebook/Hamad International Airport

He added that “the jewel of Hamad International” was different from the ripped-off version because “one is a shopping mall, and one is an international airport”.

Aviation website AirlineGeeks.com also reported the same comments in its report on HIA’s planned expansion. According to AirlineGeeks, Al Baker explained that travellers arriving at HIA would not have to go through immigration to visit its waterfall and indoor forest.

“Without having to go to anybody’s Jewel, you can sustain yourself in the jewel of my country. So you don’t have to carry your suitcases, put trolleys, go to immigration and customs, to enjoy anybody’s jewel,” he was quoted as saying.

“Without having to go to anybody’s Jewel, you can sustain yourself in the jewel of my country,” Al Baker (centre) added.
Facebook/Hamad International Airport

When contacted, Changi Airport Group (CAG) referred Business Insider to its response published by The Straits Times (ST) in an article on Monday (Nov 4).

CAG chief executive Lee Seow Hiang was cited by the daily as saying that a competitive process for a new integrated lifestyle complex was put in place as early as July 2012.

Singapore developer CapitaLand was awarded the contract in May 2013, based on a design by world-famous Safdie Architects, Lee said.

“We value the originality and creativity of ideas as we innovate to elevate the Changi experience for all our visitors. We respect intellectual property rights and expect the same of all our partners,” Lee was quoted as saying.

Jewel Changi Airport, which has an indoor rainforest and a 40m-tall indoor waterfall, houses over 2,000 trees and 100,000 shrubs.
Rachel Chia/Business Insider

According to Lee, Safdie Architects has since informed CAG that they have not done any work in Qatar. Award-winning Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie has also never visited Qatar, he said.

ST also quoted Safdie as saying that the firm had been “pursuing the concept of gardens as a focal point for the public realm for many decades”. Examples of the firm using natural rain water for internal waterfalls include Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport and Marina Bay Sands.

“We are delighted that Jewel’s uniqueness and originality has been well-recognised by the international community and resulted in many wanting to emulate it,” he reportedly said.

Safdie Architect’s design uses collected rainwater for both the Rain Vortex waterfall and to water the gardens in the Shiseido Forest Valley.
Rachel Chia/Business Insider

This is not the first time the straight-talking Al Baker has courted controversy with his comments.

In 2017, he was reported by the BBC as saying that US airlines were “crap” and their passengers were “always being served by grandmothers”. He reportedly also boasted that “the average age of my cabin crew is only 26”.

He later called his remarks “careless”, and said they did not represent his “true sentiments about cabin crew”.

A year later, he was again called out for making sexist remarks when he implied that his job as airline chief could only be done by a man. Al Baker reportedly said that Qatar Airways “has to be led by a man, because it is a very challenging position”.

He later apologised for the comment as well, saying that it was meant to be a joke, Fortune reported.

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