Qatar Airways acquired a 49% stake of AQA Holding, the new parent company of Sardinia-based leisure carrier Meridiana fly, leaving 51% of AQA Holding to its previous sole shareholder Alisarda. As majority shareholder, Alisarda maintains the right to appoint the majority of AQA Holding’s board members.
Qatar Airways received European Commission approval for its Meridiana investment in March.
AQA Holding’s assets include the main airline Meridiana fly, MRO provider Meridiana Maintenance, tour operator Wokita and Air Italy, an airline subsidiary of Meridiana fly that provides capacity to the latter company.
“This important partnership will help increase Meridiana’s competiveness in the European market,” Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said. “We look forward to working together to reinforce its position to provide even more connectivity to Italy and other European destinations, as well as the those in the US and beyond.”
Al Baker is on record saying that, unlike Etihad Airways’ previous policy of turning around ailing carriers, Qatar Airways would not take on an airline that required a lot of money or management time.
But Meridiana has made consistent losses in recent years and operates a mixed, aging fleet.
Nonetheless, Al Baker said at last November’s Arab Air Carriers Organization annual meeting in Marrakesh that the Italian company’s situation was not as bad as commonly perceived.
“Meridiana shouldn’t be in the state it’s in. If we didn’t have confidence that we could turn it around quite quickly, we wouldn’t be interested,” Al Baker said at the time. “We see there’s huge potential in Meridiana. It’s the second national carrier of Italy and it’s not burdened with as much debt as people think.”
As part of the agreement between the two airlines, Qatar Airways will lease new aircraft to help replace Meridiana’s aging fleet. It is anticipated that some of Qatar Airways’ existing commitment for 60 Boeing 737 MAX 8s will find their way to Italy.
Al Baker also said that Qatar’s intention was to increase the size of Meridiana, but that it would remain an independent company. There is little or no overlap between the two airlines’ route networks and, while there would be no direct feed into Qatar Airways’ hub at Doha, it is possible there could be some transfer of passengers in Rome or Milan.
After Alitalia, Meridiana is Italy’s second largest carrier, with a fleet comprising seven 737-800s, two 737-400s, one 737-700, three 767-300ERs and one 767-200ER, all leased in, as well as four DC9s, three of which are owned by Meridiana. The airline connects the main Italian airports with Sardinia, Sicily and Naples in addition to offering flights to the Canary Islands, Balearic Islands, Greece and Red Sea resort cities. The airline’s long-distance routes include Naples-New York and Palermo-New York. It also operates flights to Maldives, Mauritius, Kenya, Zanzibar, Mexico, Cabo Verde, Santo Domingo, Cuba and Brazil, mainly from Milan Malpensa and Rome Fiumicino.
Published on Air Transport World.