A few days ago I wrote about Air Italy revealing their rapid expansion plans. The airline was formerly known as Meridiana, and Qatar Airways now owns a 49% stake. While Meridiana used to be a small leisure airline, Qatar Airways has huge plans for Air Italy, as they plan on getting the airline 20 Boeing 737 MAX and 30 Boeing 787 aircraft over the coming years (which is quite a ratio of longhaul to short-haul airlines).
With Alitalia struggling, the goal is to basically become Italy’s national airline, at least on the longhaul front (given how much slack ultra low cost carriers will likely pick up within Europe). I’m really excited to see if they’re able to build a more sustainable business model than Alitalia had, given that they were also invested in by a Gulf carrier.
With Air Italy being largely controlled by Qatar Airways, this raises an interesting question — will Air Italy join the oneworld alliance?
During a press conference a few days ago, a reporter asked Qatar Airways’ CEO, Akbar Al Baker, exactly this (at the 25min35sec mark):
Al Baker’s answer was as follows (for anyone who doesn’t want to watch the video):
We are very keen for any airline that we invest is part of oneworld. As you know that we are a major investor in IAG which is part of oneworld, we are a major investor in LATAM which is part of oneworld, we are an investor in Cathay Pacific which is oneworld. So it’s obvious we would like Air Italy to be part of oneworld. But to get to the membership of oneworld you have several milestones that you need to achieve and we will make sure with Qatar Airways’ involvement with Air Italy that we will comply with these requirements sooner than any other airline would have been able to achieve. And at the end of the day, it’s not only what we want but it is also what the oneworld members would want but I am sure that there will be a very big excitement because this is a country which is not properly covered by oneworld members so it is obvious that we will be an exciting candidate for them to be part of oneworld. This will again bring a lot of benefits to both our employees which are really, our employees are our asset. In an airline the asset is not only an aeroplane, it is our employees. And this is why we want our employees to be part of the business. Which you already see, we made an announcement that we will distribute 20% of our net profit to our employees. We want to be part of this. And with the employees’ support we will be able to achieve what we want to be a candidate for the oneworld membership.
So Qatar Airways wants Air Italy to be part of oneworld, though it probably won’t happen overnight, or even anytime soon.
When I thought about this, the first thing that came to mind was Aer Lingus. IAG (the parent company of British Airways) invested in Aer Lingus. Initially they said that they wanted Aer Lingus to join oneworld, but now they’ve decided against it. There are membership dues and other ongoing costs associated with being part of oneworld, and on the short-haul front Aer Lingus seems to want to operate as low cost of a model as possible, and an alliance membership doesn’t help with that.
However, we all know that Qatar Airways isn’t quite as stingy as IAG/British Airways, so I’m sure they’d be much more likely to be willing to pay.
Logically I think it makes a lot of sense for Air Italy to join oneworld. With airberlin having recently gone out of business, oneworld is really quite weak in Europe. You have British Airways, Iberia, Finnair, and S7 Airlines based in Europe. That leaves a huge gap in Central and Southern Europe, which Meridiana could nicely help fill.
In oneworld, American, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Qantas, have veto powers when it comes to new airlines joining. British Airways already partners with Meridiana, so I think the only airline here that would potentially veto Air Italy’s membership would be American. Is Air Italy joining oneworld in the best interest of the alliance as a whole? I absolutely think so.
But is it in American’s best interest? I think probably not, at least the way American sees it:
- Air Italy is launching flights from Milan to both Miami and New York, both of which are routes that American already flies
- Air Italy is owned by Qatar Airways, so American could deny them entry as a way to “stick it” to Qatar Airways, which they love to do
Conversely, American could benefit from increased connectivity in Milan for their own passengers, and could potentially benefit by transporting Air Italy passengers beyond Miami.
What do you think — will Air Italy join oneworld, and/or will American veto it?