Qatar Airways’ chief executive has ambitions to turn Casablanca into a major airport hub in Africa after a potential stake acquisition in Royal Air Maroc, but right now he is focused on owning part of Italian airline, Meridiana.
“We are not supermen,” said Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways. “We are too busy at the moment with Meridiana… we need to do one thing at a time.”
A takeover of Meridiana by the Gulf carrier is facing some labour unions opposition in Italy. Mr Al Baker said he will walk away from the deal if it is not resolved by the end of the summer.
“The current owner of Meridiana will not pump anymore money into the company,” said Mr Al Baker. “And if they don’t do that , the company may go under with the loss of 4000 jobs. As long as people have jobs, the unions will benefit, but when they lose their jobs, the unions don’t provide them with alternative jobs.”
Meridiana was established in 1963 with the aim of promoting tourism on the Italian island of Sardinia. The Italian carrier was delisted from the stock exchange in May 2013. It owns a fleet of 20 aircraft and carries 4 million passengers annually, according to its website.
But Mr Al Baker has aggressive planes for the Italian airline. Speaking on the sidelines of The International Air Travel Association (IATA) in Dublin, he said: “you will see when Qatar Airways become an investor and what will become their [Meridiana’s] size.”
“You don’t expect me to be a substantial shareholder and fly MD80s,” he added, referring to the 30-year-old McDonnell Douglas MD-80-series aircraft the Italian carrier operates.
Mr Al Baker added that Qatar Airways compliments Meridiana’s network, as the Gulf airline flies 70 frequencies a week into Italy, so Qatar Airway will feed passengers into in the domestic network of Meridiana and their European network.
Mr Al Baker has further ambitions to buy between 25 per cent to 49 per cent stake in Morocco’s flag airline Royal Air Maroc. The acquisition will require a significant improvement to the airline’s Casablanca base. Mr Al Baker sees Africa in a great need for a major airport hub in the continent.
The chief executive said that Qatar will soon be operating a route to Dublin and possibly Belfast in Northern Ireland. It will also start a daily flight to Las Vegas next year.