*Italy’s second-biggest airline has been posting losses for years
By Nicolas Parasie - WSJ
Qatar Airways said Thursday it will buy a 49% stake in Italy’s Meridiana fly SpA, just days after it announced plans to invest in Latam Airlines Group SA, as the Gulf carrier continues to expand its global network by investing in other airlines.
Qatar’s flagship airline said it signed an agreement with Meridiana’s parent company, Alisarda, to buy the stake in Italy’s second-largest carrier. The transaction is expected to close in October. Details weren’t disclosed,
“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,” said Qatar Airways’ chief executive, Akbar Al Baker.
Meridiana has been coping with financial losses for years. Its network connects the main Italian cities with Sardinia and other destinations in Europe, Africa and the U.S. Its fleet consists of Boeing 737s, 767s and MD-82s.
Qatar Airways had earlier signaled its interest in investing in the Italian carrier but talks with Meridiana’s unions had appeared to have stalled the deal. Mr. Al Baker has previously said Meridiana’s employees would have to accept restructuring measures, including layoffs.
Qatar Airways is one of three major Gulf Airlines that have aggressively expanded in the past decade by rapidly opening up new routes and taking stakes in other airlines. Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways, for example, owns a 49% stake in Alitalia SpA and is looking to turn around Italy’s largest carrier.
Earlier this week, Qatar Airways said it would take a stake of up to 10% in Latam Airlines. Mr. Al Baker said the airline would invest $613 million in the struggling Latin American carrier. The company has also been eyeing a stake in Royal Air Maroc. Qatar Airways is already the largest shareholder in British Airways parent International Consolidated Airlines Group SA.