Qatar Airways Buys A 49% Stake In A Money Losing Italian Airline With Ancient Planes

On Tuesday it was announced that Qatar Airways will be buying a 10% stake in LATAM, the largest airline in Latin America. This is a continuation of Qatar Airways’ trend of purchasing stakes in foreign airlines.

Last year Qatar Airways bought a 9.99% stake in IAG, the parent company of British Airways, Iberia, and Aer Lingus. Earlier in the year they announced that they’d be increasing that stake to 15%.

Qatar-Airways-A350-02

Well, today Qatar Airways formally announced that they’ll be purchasing a 49% stake in Italy’s second largest airline, Meridiana. Per Qatar Airways’ press release:

Qatar Airways announced today that it has signed a contribution and shareholders agreement with Alisarda, the parent company of Meridiana.

The agreement provides for Qatar Airways to purchase 49 per cent of Meridiana fly’s shares, subject to the fulfilment of certain conditions, before the closing which is planned for early October.

Qatar Airways Group Chief Executive, Mr. Akbar Al Baker, said: “Qatar Airways continues to expand its business opportunities around the world, increasing travel options for our passengers while also enhancing our investment portfolio.

“This agreement sets the path to progress our work towards a strong resolution that benefits both the staff and passengers who travel with Meridiana fly.”

This has been rumored for over a year now, and must be one of the most puzzling airline investments yet. Meridiana is a fairly small Italian airline that largely connects major airports in Italy with Sardinia, and has a fleet of 21 aircraft, including MD-80s, 737s, and 767s.

Meridiana

What could Qatar Airways’ motivation be for purchasing a stake in Meridiana? I suspect it’s a case of “monkey see, monkey do,” given that Etihad bought a stake in Alitalia last year, which was also a rather questionable investment.

However, Meridiana is a small airline that’s losing money with an average fleet age of over 20 years without as many flights into key markets, so this is even more puzzling. Presumably Qatar wants more access to the Italian market. Perhaps this will come in the form of Qatar Airways launching more flights to Italy, or it could come in the form of Meridiana launching flights to Doha, so that Qatar Airways can offer connecting flights from there.

As I pointed out a couple of days ago, big picture Qatar’s motivation for investing in foreign airlines is twofold:

  • Qatar is looking for ways to diversify their assets and develop economies that are sustainable long term, long after oil runs out (decreased oil revenue is already impacting Gulf countries), and investing abroad is one way to do that
  • The Gulf carriers are constantly fighting political battles when expanding, given how many foreign airlines selectively don’t want to compete with government owned/subsidized airlines in the Gulf; by buying stakes in other carriers, the Gulf carriers are increasing their soft political power

However, this particular investment is questionable. I think the looks on the faces of the airlines’ two executives in the below press picture nicely reflects how their respective companies should be feeling about this.

Qatar-Airways-Meridiana

Bottom line

While I understand the Gulf carriers wanting to buy stakes in foreign airlines as a way of diversifying their assets and gaining further soft political power, this particular purchase is puzzling. Meridiana has an old fleet and is losing a lot of money, and I’m not sure exactly what market they have access to that makes this an attractive investment for Qatar.

In theory I suppose we may see expanded connectivity between Doha and Italy as a result of this. However, I can’t help but feel like this was simply a response to Etihad buying a stake in Alitalia.

What do you make of Qatar’s investment in Meridiana?

Comments

  1. “also a rather questionable investment”

    What’s your finance background to make such judgements? An editor would correct this to “an investment I don’t understand.”

  2. Don’t you thing that saying that a company as big as Qatar airways would take a “monkey see monke do” approach to business is a bit nonsensical?

  3. @Lucky

    This has been in the works way before EY+AZ. The Government of Qatar has big investments in Sardinia including real estate, resorts, marinas and even a hospital. Many of these investments were acquired from Meridiana’s shareholder over several years and Meridiana is a continuation of these deals and to ensure that Sardinia remains well connected for visitors. The Italian government is also rewarding QR with significantly more access into Italy. Look for Meridiana to be completely transformed.

  4. How intense is the competition between the Gulf carriers?

    21 planes isn’t much more than a foot in the Italian door, although that plane in the photo doesn’t look short-hop.

    Not allowing foreign airlines to buy 50% or more is sort of ineffective as in most companies 49% is virtual control.

  5. I am pretty sure Qatar has the resources and capability to turn this airline around. I just flew Alitalia inside Italy and intra Europe and you can easily see the difference from Etihad. The experience was fantastic. The planes had real leather Recaro seats and the entire plane smelled like a brand new luxury car. The flight attendants were dressed impeccable like you expect from an Italian. Flights were always on time and on board service was fantastic with a great smile. If Qatar can do the same it will be a pleasure to fly in Italy.

  6. Meridiana’s 767s are in a very comfortable 8-abreast economy seating configuration. 5-star indeed.

  7. The Costa Smeralda was developed by Prince Karim Aga Khan. The amount of luxury property owned by middle east investors, you would understand this move.

  8. It also gives them an EU license, with authority to fly between any points in the EU as well as from the EU to many third countries, including the U.S.

  9. Who’s to complain? Without the arrival of the ME players we would still be paying the fares set by the price-fixing cartel of US and European airlines, aided and abetted by some smaller players in Australia and elsewhere. And they are the same ones who shriek incessantly about how things have become so unfair.
    They screwed Freddie Laker out of business but they won’t get away with that strategy again.

  10. Will there ever be a time when Americans — like flying Turkish today where you might go to Istanbul and then Lisbon or London — can fly to Doha, Abu Dhabi, or Dubai and then from there get a connecting flight to an EU destination?

    Thoughts?

  11. @Anthony LaMesa

    “Take twice as long to get to Europe in coach!”

    LOL. EK Y isn’t that nice. Go look at what JFK-LHR and JFK-AUH-LHR look like on a map.

    The only people willing to fly that route will be some of Lucky’s readers who think showers st 35,000 feet are worth adding extra travel time, but EK can’t build a business out of people playing “the hobby” (of paying as little as possible for your Dom and suite). Meanwhile for normal people, even business people who can afford premium classes, time is money.

  12. @Santastico –

    I’ve always enjoyed flying Alitalia, before Etihad bought in and all. Once on board, it’s generally been a pretty good airline. Its the ground services that have always needed work, but I think it’s been underrated as a carrier over the last 5 years if you’re reading blogs.

  13. Last year Qatar Airways bought a 9.99% stake… Earlier in the year **it** announced that **it’d** be increasing that stake to 15%.

    Well, today Qatar Airways formally announced that **it’ll** be purchasing a 49% stake…

    Meridiana has an old fleet… I’m not sure exactly what market **it has** access to…

    Qatar Airways is singular. Meridiana is singular.

  14. Hey lucky i get the impression from some of the comments that people read these boring blogs waiting to dissect your every word. Interestingly most of the comments are valid, since when did you become an investment ‘anal’yst.

  15. Could Meridiana investment open up 5th freedom rights in italy for QR in one of the smaller cities?

    I am sure QR will be happy for any italian routes to fly into New York, and Meridiana is holding a couple of rights for direct flights into JFK.

  16. Fabio says:
    Happy to announce Sardinia is in… Italy!

    While Legally that is true, there isn’t a Sardinian on the planet who calls themselves “Italian”.

    It’s a culture all it’s own.

  17. Sardinia is technically an island of the Italian territory, all other try to explain it are BS or simply the American way to live the unknown world outside US (Pellegrino water is a great example).

  18. This is a fixer-upper. If Qatar invests right and buys Meridiana modern equipment, I can’t see why they can’t contend.

  19. China says Sardinia is not island , its a rock and it belongs to China sea therefore it is their terretory. All sardinian fisherman are kicked out as chineese warships move in while a huge 10.000 + feet runway is built for “no reason”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *