Qatar Airways to buy 49% stake in Italy’s No. 2 carrier

Qatar Airways' first Airbus A350 is seen in the background as Akbar Al Baker, the airline's CEO, speaks during a delivery ceremony for the aircraft in Toulouse, France, on Dec. 22, 2014.

Qatar Airways will buy a 49% stake in Meridiana airline, Italy’s second largest carrier.

Qatar Airways made the announcement Thursday at the Farnborough Airshow near London. The move follows another announcement by Qatar Airways this week that it is seeking to buy up to 10% of LATAM Airlines, a oneworld frequent-flier partner that’s also South America’s biggest carrier.

“This agreement sets the path to progress our work towards a strong resolution that benefits both the staff and passengers who travel with Meridiana,” Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said in a statement.

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Qatar Airways already owns a 15% stake in IAG, the parent company of British Airways, Iberia, Vueling and Aer Lingus.

More broadly, the Meridiana deal follows a trend that has seen big global airlines try to expand their reach by taking equity stakes in the airlines of other nations.

In fact, Qatar Airways’ move with Meridiana isn’t even the first foray into Italy by one of three big fast-growing Persian Gulf carriers. Rival Etihad bought a 49% stake in Alitalia in 2014, launching a “reboot” of the perennially struggling Italian flag carrier that Etihad hopes also will funnel connecting passengers into its own network.

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Etihad has been especially aggressive in seeking out so-called equity partnerships with other airlines. Air Berlin, Air Serbia, Jet Airways and Virgin Australia are among those Etihad has invested in as it faces competition from Gulf rivals Emirates of Dubai and Qatar Airways.

It was just last month that Air Serbia began flights between Belgrade and New York JFK. That route, which restored a nonstop link between Serbia and the USA, came about after Etihad took a 49% stake in ailing state-owned JAT Airways and helped it relaunch under the new Air Serbia brand.

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In the United States, Delta has several such tie-ups, including in partners Virgin Atlantic, Aeromexico, China Eastern and GOL of Brazil.

As for Qatar Airways, it operates out of its Doha hub with a fleet of about 190 aircraft. In early 2017, the carrier plans to launch what will be the world’s longest regularly scheduled flight with a new route from its Doha hub to Auckland, New Zealand.

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