By Sarah Townsend
State carrier also plans new route to Florence and wide-body service to Pisa
Qatar’s state carrier hopes to conclude negotiations to purchase a 49 percent stake in Italian airline Meridiana Fly by January, its CEO has said.
Qatar Airways also plans to launch a service to Florence once a runway extension at the historic Italian city is complete, and operate a wide-body service to Pisa for the first time, Akbar Al Baker said.
Under a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed in February, Qatar Airways plans to take up to 49 percent of a new holding company for Sardinia-based carrier Meridiana Fly, while Meridiana’s parent company the Aga Khan Fund for Economic Development (AKFED), through Alisarda, would retain majority ownership of at least 51 percent.
Negotiations were since said to have reached an impasse due to disagreements over working conditions, but Qatar Airways announced in June that it had resumed talks with the Italian government after Meridiana agreed to a package of cuts to allow the deal to go ahead.
Meridiana said it would lay off a third of its staff and dock pilot salaries by 20 percent as part of the proposed stake sale.
During a visit to Tuscany last week, Qatar Airways’ CEO Akbar Al Baker unveiled new details of the airline’s proposed expansion in Italy, and said that the Meridiana talks should have concluded by the start of 2017.
He was quoted in state news agency QNA as saying: “We are hoping to have our discussions concluded by the end of January.
“During this [coming] period, Meridiana Fly also has to deliver certain conditions and achieve certain targets in its performance.
“We want Meridiana Fly to be a very strong national carrier with a robust international network, creating jobs for the young people of Italy.”
Al Baker added: “Italy is an incredibly important destination in our network and we will keep investing in new routes and increased services in this market.
“Once the runway extension at Florence Airport is complete, we fully intend to start a service to this historic city, which is so important to tourism in the region.
“We are also committed to upgrading the aircraft type currently flying to Pisa from an A320 to a wide body model as soon as we receive more aircraft in our fleet.”
Qatar Airways currently operates an A320 service daily to Pisa, and has been flying to Milan since 2002, Rome since 2003 and Venice since 2011. In total, the airline operates 42 flights per week between Doha and Italy.For all the latest transport news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.