Qatar Airways chief prowls for stakes in other airlines

Qatar Airways, already one of the world’s fastest-growing airlines, is looking to build its global presence by buying up stakes in other airlines.

Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of the Doha-based carrier, said he’s interested in taking more equity in airlines. While he wouldn’t disclose any targets or say how big a stake Qatar would take, any such position would be bigger than 5 per cent or other minimal stake, he said.

Qatar already owns 10 per cent of International Consolidated Airlines Group, and he has said he would like to purchase more of the British Airways parent. Making additional investments in other carriers would match Arabian Gulf competitor Etihad Airways, which has purchased major stakes in Italy’s Alitalia, Air Berlin and India’s Jet Airways.

“We are open to equity investments if it is in the best interests of Qatar Airways for our growth plans,” Mr Al Baker said on the sidelines of the annual meeting of the International Air Transport Association in Miami. “We don’t go and just do 5 per cent. We would always take a bigger share.”

Mr Al Baker made news on Monday by calling on Iata, which represents airlines globally, to take a position on the face-off between major US airlines and his airline, Etihad and Emirates. The US carriers have accused those three Gulf carriers of receiving more than $42 billion in government subsidies and other benefits in violation of fair-competition rules in air agreements with the US.

Despite concerns that Qatar is unfairly growing too rapidly in the US, Mr Al Baker said Qatar has no plans to grow beyond its seven current US cities, three new markets in Atlanta, Los Angeles and Boston, and eventually Detroit.

Regarding acquisition plans, Mr Al Baker said in March 2014 that he was reviving Qatar Airways’s investment strategy after being offered stakes in carriers including Alitalia.

He disclosed his goal in an interview without saying where he was focused. In November, he dismissed speculation that Qatar Airways was interested in acquiring a holding in Vietnam Airlines.

In January, IAG disclosed the Qatar Airways stake. Mr Al Baker has said that such a partnership would help the Gulf airline build better access to the Americas. Qatar Airways is a member of the Oneworld alliance that includes American Airlines.

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