Qatar Airways — a Middle East-based carrier with deep pockets and several United States gateways — has for several years been a thorn in the side of U.S.-based carriers such as United Airlines (NYSE: UAL), Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL) and American Airlines (NASDAQ: AAL), all of which worry that Qatar could siphon off passengers and jobs in the U.S. if left unchecked.
And the three U.S. carriers have been working with U.S. aviation officials to try and ensure Qatar is indeed held in check.
Now, however, it appears Qatar has found a new, more subtle way to expand its presence in the United States and around the world via its 49 percent stake in upstart Air Italy.
Air Italy is seeking to become Italy’s dominant carrier as Alitalia — long Italy’s flagship airline — struggles.
Air Italy took delivery of its first Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in a distinctive livery last week — the first of 20 MAXs that Air Italy will receive over the next three years.
Those Boeing 737s and five additional widebody Airbus A-330-200 aircraft that formerly were part of the Qatar Airways fleet will become the backbone of the Air Italy fleet. Those widebody Airbus planes eventually will be replaced by Boeing 787-8 Dreamliners.
Air Italy’s parent company is AQA Holding. But make no mistake, Qatar Airways’ controversial CEO, Akbar Al Baker (he called U.S. flight attendants “grandmas”), has exerted a hand in orchestrating Air Italy’s game plan.
Al Baker said of the Boeing 737 MAX delivery in Seattle: “To see the aircraft here for the first time, it truly brings to life the next exciting chapter for Italy’s future carrier of choice, providing the people of Italy with the sophisticated travel experience they deserve.”
All of the new aircraft in Air Italy’s fleet will be used to grow the carrier’s route network, which will include flights from Milan, Italy to New York City and Miami.