The reconversion of the economy of the Emirate from a system grounded on the revenues of natural energy export to a modern sustainable macroeconomic model passes through a wide range of foreign investments.
After taking stakes in different sectors, making investments from Harrod’s to Valentino, the small and wealthy country is searching new targets to expand Qatari influence. The rumors of a purchase of a percentage of about 49% of the stake of Meridiana, a small Italian airline based in Olbia, a tourist location in the island of Sardinia, by the Qatar Airways, the company owned by the State of Qatar, have become louder during last days. According to Italian newspaper La Repubblica, the Gulf carrier is not supposed to be directly involved in the purchase, while IAG, a larger company born by the merger between British Airways and Iberia, will actually do the operation.
This move of Akbar Al Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, who flew to Italy in last days to meet Italian instituions could look similar to the recent purchase of 49% of the stake of Alitalia made by Etihad that but, by many meanings, this operation could not be considered the same.
Meridiana is a small airline company, controlled by Ali Sarda S.p.A., a company owned by a fund of Aga Khan. The airline is currently the fourth carrier on Italian national market, its fleet is composed by 20 aircrafts and has a limited network. In last years the company registered important losses and has been recently struggling with trade unions for redundancies.
The trade unions are to play still a main role in the Meridiana’s affair while the negotiation will be finalized only after their final approval.
So one may ask why Qatar wants to bet on such a discouraging scenario?
This should be seen as a mere asset investment or as a strategy move in the aviation global industry?
Despite the opportunity of enter the rich and mature European civil aviation market from Sardinia, a tourist hotspot in the middle of the Mediterranean, the real intensions of this purchase go beyond airline strategy.
Since 2012 the State of Qatar has been making continuous investments in Sardinia, especially in tourism sector. As highlighted in a brilliant analysis by Capa no surprise this Memorandum of Understanding between the two parts comes just few days after the visit of the Emir at the end of last January. Indeed the Qatari purchase of Meridiana must be considered as a milestone in the series of Italian, Sardinian investments made by the Arab monarchy .
The assets of Meridiana are probably more interesting than the company’s network or slots for Qatar Airways that is already operating direct flights to Doha from 3 Italian airports.
Time and trade unions will tell us.