x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Qatar Airways seeks stake in European carrier to help it to land a global role

Qatar Airways is looking for acquisition targets in Europe, its chief executive said.

Qatar Airways is considering buying a stake in a European airline under a plan to increase the number of passengers feeding into its global network, its chief executive said.

The acquisition plans are part of a strategy that should this year result in the Doha airline buying new aircraft and expanding into Canada and Germany - two markets that have recently put restrictions on Gulf airlines.

A purchase could take place this year, although talks are not being held at present, Akbar al Baker, the chief executive of Qatar Airways, told a German newspaper. The airline is considering a 49 per cent stake in a European carrier equipped with a developed set of routes, he said. He declined to say which airlines were being considered.

"It is very well possible that we will buy shares in another airline," he said. "Precondition is that it has a strong network and can help us to become a more global actor."

The airline is one of the fastest-growing in the world and is just one destination short of reaching 100 cities. It is backed by the state of Qatar, which has directed the airline to expand and stimulate trade, tourism and investment.

The airline is one of the biggest purchasers of new aircraft, with orders for 80 Airbus A350s, 60 Boeing 787s and 32 Boeing 777s. Mr al Baker said the carrier's commitment for five Airbus A380 superjumbos may expand with an additional order. It is also considering a purchase of Bombardier CSeries aircraft during the Paris Air Show this summer, he said.

Last week, the airline celebrated the launch of scheduled flights to Stuttgart, a German economic powerhouse that has been an expansion target for Emirates Airline for several years. The car giant Porsche, which includes Qatar investment firms as major shareholders, is based in Stuttgart.

"Yet again, we are demonstrating our strategic focus to serve key business and leisure cities around the world, as well as underserved markets with new direct flights and increased capacity," Mr al Baker said.

The airline is also expanding into Canada, a market that has been at the heart of intense lobbying from the UAE for more access for its two long-haul carriers, Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways. The Doha airline will begin flights to Canada on June 29 with three times weekly services to Montreal. Emirates and Etihad currently fly to Toronto.

Other upcoming destinations for Qatar Airways include Oslo, Kolkata, Shiraz and Venice.