Walsh: Qatar Airways, American Airlines relationship is fun

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The relationship between American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) and Qatar Airways is “fun‘, says William Walsh, CEO and Executive Director of International Airlines Group (IAG) (IAG). 

Qatar Airways is the single largest shareholder of IAG since 2016, and the two airlines had their highlight moments of working together. Take, for instance, July 2017, when facing weeks-long mixed fleet crew strikes, British Airways (part of IAG) turned to Qatar Airways to wet-lease its Airbus A320 aircraft with a crew. At the time, the Qatari airline was just starting to feel the consequences of airspace ban by neighboring countries, imposed a month prior. 

But how much does the Gulf carrier affect IAG business and is it harmed by Qatar Airways involvement in the years-long conflict with the U.S. legacy carriers?

Qatar Airways’ influence on IAG business

Qatar Airways is a single biggest shareholder of the International Airlines Group (IAG) (IAG). Having acquired its first IAG shares in 2015, the Doha-based airline has upped its investment several times before reaching 20.01% in 2016. Now, over four years in the deal, Willie Walsh, the CEO of IAG, has commented about the nature of the partnership.

Describing Qatar Airways as a very supportive shareholder and a very good long term financial investor, Walsh denied that Qatari airline has any influence on IAG’s strategy. “We do not have any consultation with them in terms of where the business is going,” Walsh told investors on November 8, 2019. 

“We do not consult with them on any strategic issue,” Walsh assured saying that Qatar Airways is an IAG investor, thus IAG provides them information in the same way as it does for any other investor. 

To illustrate the autonomy, Walsh provides an example of the proposed acquisition of Air Europa. IAG announced the intention to purchase Air Europa for $1.1 billion (€1 billion) on November 4, 2019. It approximately at that time Qatar Airways found out the news, Walsh revealed, assuring investors that Qataris only heard about the Air Europa acquisition when it was announced publicly. 

IAG stand in Qatar Airways, American Airlines feud

In Walsh’s view, Delta’s LATAM stake (proposed) acquisition is a game-changer in the long-lasting feud between the U.S. legacy carriers and the three biggest Gulf airlines. American, United, and Delta have long accused Emirates, Etihad, Qatar Airways of receiving illegal state aid. 

Describing the relationship between Qatar Airways and American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) as “fun”, Walsh said he has a “front-row seat” in the feud, often acting as a referee between Doug Parker, the CEO of American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) , and Akbar Al Baker, the CEO of Qatar Airways. 

In September 2019, Delta Airlines (DAL) announced intention to buy a 20% in LATAM Airlines ‒ a move seen as a bitter pill to American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) , since the latter had been working on a joint venture with LATAM, along with British Airways and Iberia, since 2016. 

Qatar Airways has a 10% stake in LATAM, therefore the move could cause “change in attitude” in Qatar Airways and American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) relations, Walsh believes. “I would expect to see a very different attitude from American towards Qatar as a result of that,” he told investors.

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