Air Italy Backtracks On 787 Plans

Filed Under: Other Airlines, Qatar

Air Italy is the controversial Italian airline that Qatar Airways has a 49% stake in. The airline used to be known as Meridiana, but with funding from Qatar Airways the airline has launched new routes and updated their onboard product.

The airline has expanded significantly, though has also cut several routes within weeks of launching.

Air Italy A330

Since the airline is backed by Qatar Airways, their plan has long been to primarily lease planes from Qatar Airways. That’s a win-win since Qatar Airways has excess capacity due to the Gulf blockade (they’re even leasing planes to Air Canada this summer), and that’s cheaper than Air Italy acquiring planes otherwise.

When Air Italy started they had five Airbus A330s from Qatar Airways, but they’ve long said that their plan is to eventually operate a fleet of 30 Boeing 787s, which just gives you a sense of how much they were hoping to grow.

I’ve been skeptical about whether or not they’d actually ever get 787s, especially since the initial plans called for the airline to have their first 787s by May 2019 (this month). Well, now we know the answer.

Aviation Analyst reports that Air Italy no longer plans to add any 787s to their fleet, but rather plans to maintain an all A330 fleet for their long haul flights.

The reasoning provided is interesting. According to Air Italy’s COO:

“Because of the delay in Boeing 787 Dreamliner deliveries, we have decided to expand the fleet with Airbus A330s instead. We will add more A330s this year, and next year too.

We want to lease the next A330 jets from Qatar as we would like to maintain the consistency in our product. We don’t want to create confusion in our product, and this aircraft is proving to be perfect for us. We’ll stick with the same cabins, and continue to roll-out our service and cabin upgrades, etc. We’re too small to have a mixed (Airbus and Boeing) fleet, we realised it would be too costly.”

The claim here is that Qatar Airways has 30 Boeing 787-9s on order, and the delivery of those is delayed. While that’s true, it’s my understanding that Air Italy was largely going to take over Qatar Airways’ existing 787-8s.

Reading between the lines, it sure seems obvious to me why Air Italy isn’t taking over any 787s from Qatar Airways — they’re costly and the business model hasn’t quite panned out the way they hoped:

  • Air Italy pulled out of Bangkok, Delhi, and Mumbai within weeks of launching flights
  • Air Italy canceled Chicago flights before they even launched
  • Air Italy’s flights to Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Toronto, are all seasonal (the airline didn’t reveal this when they actually announced the flights, but only in the past few weeks)
  • The airline plans to operate “counter-seasonal” flights, meaning in winter they’ll operate leisure long haul flights heading east from Milan, which is going to be challenging to do without much of a connecting network

Air Italy’s A330 business class seats

Bottom line

I wish I were surprised, but I’ve been assuming for quite a while that Air Italy won’t actually take over any Qatar Airways 787s. Personally I think that’s a smart move. An A330 seems like a much more reasonable plane with which to try and grow.

While I question Air Italy’s business model, I continue to point out that they have an exceptional onboard soft product in business class, and highly recommend flying them.

Are you surprised to see that Qatar Airways won’t get any 787s?

  1. I took the Air Italy non-stop between LAX and MXP a few weeks back and I feel that they are silly for going seasonal. Most flights from LAX to Europe are full every day of the week regardless of season (I go to Europe about once a month from LAX). The flight on the return was much fuller than the flight going (two weeks after they started service). If they were to keep service year round they would be full within a number of months and would be able to maintain that.

  2. I suspect this is equally about Qatar wanting to get rid of its last remaining older A330s with angled seats! They probably have a few sitting around that they are much keener to get rid of than the newer 788s, saves on cabin renovation costs.

  3. @Andrew I agree, there’s no way LAX doesn’t have enough demand to be year-round.

    @Kerry I was gonna write kind of the same thing. This really isn’t as surprising or as bad of a sign about the airline’s finances as it seems – the 787 is less expensive to operate than the A330, so if they were really doing that badly they’d probably want to replace the A330s with 787s ASAP. It’s probably simpler for them to keep the A330 for fleet commonality – the COO is right, they’re not big enough for a mixed long-haul fleet – and of course there’s the added benefit that Qatar gets to get rid of their A330s quicker. If anything this whole development is an indication that Air Italy is likely not as financially strained as we all thought, they’ve just gotten confused about their route plans and are trying to straighten things out.

  4. @Alex. It just takes some time to ramp up and it seems that they are forgetting to be patient. Flights were great. Left pretty much on time both directions and service in economy was pretty solid.

  5. Is Air Italy to Qatar what Vueling is to Iberia and Transavia is to Air France?
    Anyway it is silly to replace the US-Europe connections with Maldives-Kenya-Tanzania connections and to go seasonal for the US.

  6. Makes sense, it is just disappointing to over promise and under deliver. However, I flew MXP-MIA in business 2 weeks ago, great service, good food. And if you fly with a travel companion, seating and bedding is not too bad. IFE sub-par. They handed a free wifi code, but it barely worked, super slow (Panasonic). Flight was on time. Decent lounge in Milan. In Miami it arrives in a terminal with very few incoming flights, so immigration was super fast.

  7. I always thought the Qatar’s 787-9 was to replace their 787-8 as they move on… therefore this makes sense!?…

  8. If you knew the Italian leisure market, you’d know that Milan has a huge demand for charter flights in wintertime to places like Thailand and Eastern Africa. The city’s catchment area is huge – think 10 million people living within 1h30m from MXP. As this is easily the richest part of the country, it’s no surprise Air Italy sees an opportunity there.

  9. The A330neo is cheaper or about the same to fly as the B787 depending on the route, when the purchase cost is taken into consideration. Airbus have a great legacy product, and Boeing still hasn’t made a profit on the B787, so it will be interesting to see how these two planes compete in the long term.

  10. @Chris Parkinson I think the even more interesting part of that article is where it quotes Al Baker saying that by 2024 they will be operating only the A321, with no A320s or A319s. That’s unexpected…

  11. Having a mixed fleet for an airline their size doesn’t make sense financially or operationally. We think it’s a very smart move for Air Italy to stick with flying only the A330 for longhaul.

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