Mysterious: Qatar Airways Offered 25% Stake In Unnamed US Airline Startup

Qatar Airways has been investing in foreign airlines the past few years, presumably as a way for the government to diversify their assets. They’re not necessarily looking to fully integrate with these airlines, but rather they seem to be investing as a way of getting a direct return on their investment, at least long term (unlike what we’ve seen Etihad do with airberlin, Alitalia, etc.). In other words, it seems that they’re fine investing in airlines even if it doesn’t lead to an amazing joint venture, etc.

As it stands, Qatar Airways has a 20% stake in IAG (the parent company of British Airways and Iberia), a 10% stake in LATAMa 49% stake in Meridiana, and just recently announced their intentions to acquire a 10% stake in Cathay Pacific.

Last June Qatar Airways expressed interest in purchasing a stake in American Airlines, though that ended up falling through. Following the unsuccessful bid for American, Qatar Airways indicated that they were still interested in acquiring a stake in a US airline. For me, Alaska and JetBlue were the first two airlines that came to mind (given that they actually partner with Gulf carriers and don’t buy into the anti-Gulf rhetoric), though we haven’t seen much movement on that front.

Well, Reuters reports on some interesting comments made by Qatar Airways’ CEO, Akbar Al Baker, about acquiring a stake in a US airline. This quote comes from Al Baker at an airshow in Kuwait today, where he indicated that a startup airline in the US has offered Qatar Airways a 25% stake. Since it’s a private startup, they wouldn’t face the same opposition as they did in their bid for American.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who is intrigued here, though go figure that Al Baker has refused to disclose any details about the airline, including the name, where it would be based, and even whether or not Qatar Airways intends to purchase the stake.

Off the top of my head I can’t think of any major US airline startups that are in the news, unless he’s referring to Baltia (which would make my day). I’m sure they’d gladly take Qatar Airways money.

Al Baker is known for being a big talker, so I’m not sure if this is a case of him just making something sound more significant than it is, if he’s saying this in an attempt to taunt US airlines, or if there’s a real US airline startup that they may be involved with. I’d certainly welcome it, especially if it means that service on this unnamed airline in business class within the US is similar to what you’d find on Qatar Airways. 😉

What do you make of Al Baker’s comments?

(Tip of the hat to Curtis)

Comments

  1. @flightwonk, agree that would make the most sense/offer a measure of credibility, especially with the Virgin name retiring.

    If not that, then I can’t imagine what he’s referring to, and would assume it’s the usual Al-Baker nonsense.

  2. I was just thinking this morning that it’s about time for a new serious startup airline in the US. An airline to rival AS and B6.

  3. I don’t think Branson would jump back into the US market so quickly, and even if he did, foreign ownership rules cap everything at a 49% stake in US carriers by overseas investors. So if Qatar took 25%, I don’t think Sir Richard would settle with a 24% stake; he’d max out what he could plus it’s not like he needs other foreign money to start something. His challenge is a domestic partner.

    Neelman is an intriguing choice, I thought I had read something he was looking to start another airline after JetBlue and Azul?

  4. My first thought was Richard Branson and a ‘new Virgin America’. But would Branson be allowed to start up a new carrier just after selling Virgin to Alaska? Are there anti-competition clauses that would hinder this?

    Oh, and news is that Meridiana is also getting some 787s from QR. I was surprised by that since it wasn’t long ago that QR was leasing planes for LATAM to support its operations and wouldn’t expect them to have spare wide bodies to give to Meridiana.

  5. @Lucky do you know what percentage of their investments are in the airline industry? Would seem odd not to diversify their portfolio a little more if its mostly airlines.

  6. Dickie B owned no more than 25% of Virgin America. The Virgin name rarely indicates more than a token share holding in a company.

  7. Until there’s actual news this isn’t news and doesn’t deserve the speculation. Especially considering Al Baker’s history for speculation…

  8. My money is on Neeleman. There was that whole “Azura” thing a while back and it was never clear exactly what the plans were there. He is clearly a serial entrepreneur who at least has the creds to do something in this space.

  9. @RF (two posts or so above)

    If the airline was named Virgin Alaska, expect lawsuits.

    Frontier started a low fare carrier Frontier Horizon and was prompted sued. They dropped the Frontier Horizon name. A few years later, Horizon started flying CRJ700’s for Frontier, such as a LIT-DEN route. Eventually, Horizon pulled out of the agreement.

  10. 49% ownership, but only 25% voting shares. Branson would never buy part of the company and have no say in how it’s run.

  11. Given the recent hype:
    A) Cryptoair
    B) Aero Blockchain
    C) Boin (Contraction of Boeing and Coin)

    PS: Nobody wants you to know that in reality AAB contacted me and showed interest in my proposition to launch Aero Potato, the first US airline to have the ghastly A380 with First Potato, Potato Suites, Premium Potato and Crisps. Flying to a city near you soon.

  12. @ Suzie Alcatraz

    Branson OFTEN has very small stakes in companies branded Virgin.

    In the UK rail industry, Virgin only owns 10% of “Virgin Trains East Coast” (one of the two main Anglo-Scottish lines), the remainder owned by the huge Stagecoach transport company. Stagecoach is a well-respected company – but they see value in a deal with Branson which gives them access to the (alleged) glamour of the Virgin brand.

    I am mystified by the certainty of your assurance that Branson would “never” do again that which he seems perfectly happy to do. (Virgin makes mega-bucks from licensing rights to its brand.)

    Personally I think much of the Virgin brand is just hype: in aviation, Virgin Atlantic’s ground facilities are mostly very nice (the arrivals lounge at LHR is absolute sh1te though); their air services are little more than average, with some things better than competitors and some things worse. VA is certainly not the game-changer that Branson promised.

  13. If this ah starts a us carrier and or adds capacity to the us market I’m going to Alan Joyce/pie his ugly ass at farnborough . What a loser ah.

  14. This may be a good time to do an update on the current state of Qatar and being blocked from flying to the UAE, Egypt, etc. Hard to believe that something that was unprecedented and what we all expected would last a few days/week(s) has dragged on over 7 months now.

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