Meridiana was Italy’s second largest carrier (sixth largest airline group in Italy), with an aging fleet (average age of aircraft was 18 years), a heavy dependence on the domestic Italian market, and a sub-scale international network. It had been plagued by years of poor management and financial losses. Dominated by European LCCs and larger Italian airline, Air Italy’s better international network, Meridiana faced heavy losses, spiraling costs, and the prospect of further future recapitalization.
What most saw as an airline on its last legs, Qatar Airways saw as an opportunity. Qatar Airways had been under intense scrutiny by US and European governmental bodies for predatory business practices aimed at quickly acquiring massive market share in international aviation through massive subsidization by the Qatari government. Qatar, who had pledged no further expansion of Qatar Airways into US markets until they opened their books, increased transparency, and addressed the subsidy issue, saw an opportunity to circumvent that agreement by operating under a different livery. So, Qatar purchased a 49% stake in the airline (max allowed under EU regulations).
And with that purchase, Air Italy was brought into existence. Qatar Airways’ CEO Akbar Al Baker announced a rebranding of Meridiana as Air Italy. Operating with Qatar Airways’ funds, and flying on Qatar Airways’ planes, an airline that had once been a struggling regional carrier announced new long-haul transatlantic routes into North America (6 in the past year!), and took orders for almost 50 brand new long-range aircraft.