Qatar Airways recently bought a 49% stake on the Italian carrier Meridiana. Meridiana has for a long time been a small, mainly leisure carrier in Italy. Although they are the second largest carrier in the country, they are nowhere near as large as their main rival Alitalia. With Alitalia in bankruptcy, this investment could pay off well for Qatar Airways.
Meridiana Becomes Air Italy
The first step that Qatar Airways is taking to making Meridiana the new Italian flag carrier is rebranding it as Air Italy. The original Air Italy was purchased by Meridiana, and incorporated as a wholly owned subsidiary. This means that the airline will only need to change the names, as there are no trademark issues with the name. The name change will give Meridiana a more global name, as well as a name that will resonate with Italians. I believe this is the first big step in the transformation of the carrier.
Short Haul Expansion
Soon after the Qatar Airways intent to purchase, Meridiana placed an order for 20 737MAX in order to expand its regional network, as well as renew is ageing fleet of 737s and MD80s. This will give the airline added scope, more profitable flights, and the ability to modernize. The new aircraft are set to be delivered starting in 2018.
Long Haul Expansion
The airline plans to add long haul destinations through the acquisition of new aircraft. They currently have 3 767s in their fleet. Qatar Airways plans to send them some 787s and A330s so that they can grow their fleet. This could be followed by an actual order from Meridiana for their own aircraft. Regardless, if they do receive Qatar Airways aircraft, they will have what is probably one of the best business class products in the continent. The new aircraft will allow the airline to grow across the Atlantic and launch flights into Asia and possibly Africa.
The airline will also need to shift its focus to fit its new Italian flag carrier goals. The airline could place a bid for some of Alitalia’s slots at Rome and Milan (MXP). This could be convenient for Easyjet. They placed a bid for Alitalia’s short haul routes, and I can see them partnering with Meridiana. Easyjet could take over Alitalia’s Milan Linate routes, as well as some FCO routes, while Meridiana shifts its hubs to Rome and Milan Malpensa (MXP). This would be more likely to be approved by European regulators, as Lufthansa would become too large of a carrier if they do get to purchase Alitalia or its assets.
As mentioned above, Meridiana could possibly purchase slots that are currently used by Alitalia. This could also mean asset purchases. The airline could take over Alitalia’s A330s and some of their 777s (and trade them to Qatar Airways in exchange for 787s). This sounds very convoluted (and to a degree it is) but it could be done. Given Alitalia’s current circumstances, this would be ideal. This would be a saving grace for almost everyone it Italy. Many Alitalia employees could find a job at Meridiana, and the Italian government could save face.
I think this is a bold, but great move by Qatar Airways and Meridiana. The two companies will begin to grow together, and expand their networks throughout Europe and Doha. This offers consumers new options out of Italy, gives the Italians a chance to keep a flag carrier, and will most likely signal the end of Alitalia. Even if Meridiana does not end up buying parts of Alitalia, the government will not keep it alive forever. At that point, Air Italy will be able to fill the void.
What do you think? How should Qatar Airways proceed with Air Italy in its namesake country? Let us know!
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