Qatar Airways may be looking to buy stakes in 3 more airlines but they appear at risk of losing their investment in Air Italy, as the number two Italian airline is on the brink of bankruptcy.
Air Italy is 51% owned by Aga Khan and 49% by Air Italy. It lost 164 million euros in 2018 and, in unofficial numbers, reports are that losses grew to 200 million euros in 2019.
The Sardinian-based carrier moved from operating a charter business into long haul operations with leased Qatar Airbus A330s, and upgraded its regional operation with Boeing 737 MAX aircraft (which were grounded).
It sought to take advantage of extreme weakness at Alitalia, and brought the ire of U.S. airlines who argued that – despite Delta owning 49% of Virgin Atlantic – Air Italy wasn’t really a European carrier, and Qatar Airways was using it as a stalking horse for its own transatlantic operations (something permitted under the U.S. – Qatar Open Skies treaty, but contrary to assurances made to settle disputes with the U.S. airlines, who were aware of Qatar’s Air Italy plans at the time of those assurances.)
Qatar cannot increase its investment in Air Italy directly without running afoul of European Union foreign ownership rules, and so cannot simply inject cash into the airline. Etihad, in similar circumstances, spun off airline frequent flyer programs (which are not subject to those rules) and overpaid for those programs. (In air berlin’s case they even continued to buy miles from the topbonus program on credit, so when the airline went under the frequent flyer program did too.)
Reportedly Qatar has been unable to find other investors, a special shareholders meeting is being held today, and one of the options under consideration is liquidation.
This is the airline that the CEOs of American, Delta, and United misleadingly claimed was an existential threat and unsuccessfully ran to President Trump seeking protection from.