Air Italy to open US market for Gulf carriers?

Paolo Grassi

The Milanese adventure of Qatar Airways, Air Italy and Oman Air, the flag carrier of a country, which has remained neutral during the blockade of the State of Qatar, announced plans to share their flight codes. Curiously, amidst the destinations were two US cities: New York and Miami, still terra incognita for Oman Air.  As the Gulf Cooperation Council summit is set to commence for the 40th time on December 11, 2019, a lot of soft power might be standing behind the codeshare agreement.

The airlines will put their flight codes on flights connecting the two countries. Initially, intra-Italian flights and connections between Milan-Malpensa (MXP) and Muscat International Airport (MCT) will be affected. Plans to expand the agreement on flights to the United States are also in the works, pending governmental approval.

Under the current agreement, Air Italy‘s flight code IG is placed on Oman Air‘s flights between Milan-Malpensa (MXP) and Muscat, the capital of the country. Oman Air’s flight code WY will be placed on Air Italy connections between Milan-Malpensa (MXP) and Cagliari (CAG), Catania (CTA), Lamezia Terme (SUF), Naples (NAP), Palermo (PMO) and Rome-Fiumicino (FCO).

Oman Air is also waiting for governmental approval to put the WY code on Air Italy flights from MXP to New York John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) and to Miami International Airport (MIA), creating indirect connectivity between the two United States cities and Oman. Currently, the Muscat-based carrier has no codeshare or direct destinations to the U.S.

But politics and accusations can put a stop to the plans of sharing codes to flights to the United States. Qatar Airways is a minority stakeholder of Air Italy, with a 49% stake in the Milan-based airline. The fact had caused wide-spread panic amongst the Big Three airlines in the United States, as airline CEOs accused the venture of being a way to go around the agreement with the U.S. not to add “Fifth Freedom” flights from Qatar.

Yet even before the flag carrier of Qatar started its iteration of the movie The Italian Job in Milan, the relationship between airlines located in the Persian Gulf and in North America was not something that happily happened Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. While International Airlines Group (IAG) (IAG) CEO Willie Walsh described the relationship between Qatar Airways and American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) as fun, neither Qatar Airways nor American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) , including other U.S. carriers, is having fun. The latter is accusing the former of receiving illegal state aid, while the former is constantly threatening to leave oneworld, an alliance headed by the American Airlines (A1G) (AAL) . The two parties are at a spat since 2015, when American, Delta Air Lines, and United Airlines accused three main Gulf carriers of receiving over $40 billion in illegal government subsidies.

The accusations and public comments culminated in a meeting between the United States President Donald Trump and several U.S.-based airline CEOs in July 2019, discussing how the illegal subsidies were costing jobs in the United States, Reuters reported. Just nine days earlier, Trump announced that Qatar has inked a deal for a “large number” of Boeing aircraft.

“It’s a transaction that will be purchasing a lot of Boeing jets and a lot of money spent in our country, and that means a lot of jobs.”

Executives of Air Italy and Oman Air, however, remain hopeful. Oman Air’s own Abdulaziz Al Raisi said that the new partnership is a significant development for Oman Air, which is “an exciting milestone for our airline, and we look forward to expanding our global coverage in the months ahead,” as the codeshare agreements marks its foray into North America.


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