On February 19, 2018, the Italian airline Meridiana merged with its subsidiary Air Italy, taking up a new name, a new hub and a new ambitious strategy. Under its new owners, the airline will seek to grow its fleet and passenger numbers fourfold by 2022, having a goal to replace Alitalia and become the country’s national carrier.

Meridiana, founded in 1963 under the name of Alisarda, was a privately owned Italian airline headquartered in Olbia, Sardinia, with its main hub at Olbia Costa Smeralda Airport (OLB). In 1991 the airline was renamed as Meridiana.

The airline was put under new ownership of Qatar Airways when it bought a 49 percent stake in AQA Holding, the new parent company of Meridiana, in September 2017, as stated in an official press release. Its original owner Alisarda now retains a 51 percent share.

On February 19, 2018, Meridiana officially merged with its subsidiary, the Milan-based Air Italy, taking up its name. The new Air Italy is the fusion of Meridiana, the second-largest airline after the flag carrier Alitalia, and Air Italy, a smaller, northern Italian airline that Meridiana bought in 2011, Italian news agency The Local writes.

Alitalia was put under administration in 2017 after employees rejected a plan to cut jobs and salaries. The struggling carrier’s prospects are unclear as potential buyers have put their interests on hold to see how Italy’s general elections, to be held on March 4, 2018, will play out. This gives an opening for Air Italy.

With the backing of new owner Qatar Airways, Air Italy is ready to become “the national carrier of Italy”, replacing Alitalia, Italian news agency ANSA writes.

Since coming under new owners, the airline has undertaken a major revision of its strategy. The rebranding is accompanied by a new restructuring plan, with which Air Italy aims to become the country’s “airline of reference”, Reuters reports.

“We’re working to build an efficient airline with high quality services that offers an alternative to Italians and to all international tourists who want to visit Italy,” Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker was reported saying by The Local.

By 2022, the airline expects to “transport 10 million passengers a year and have a fleet of 50 aircraft,” Air Italy’s CEO Francesco Violante said at the launch of the new brand in Milan, Reuters reports.

The airline says it will double its fleet starting with 20 new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to be added over the next three years, the first of which are scheduled to arrive in April 2018, according to an official press release. This delivery will make it the first Italian airline to operate the 737 MAX.

The fleet will also be joined by Boeing 787-7 Dreamliners. Qatar Airways will lease five of its Airbus A330-200s.

Until now, Meridiana’s fleet consisted of Boeing 737s, Boeing 767s and McDonnell Douglas MD-82s.

Although Air Italy’s headquarters will remain in Olbia, Sardinia, its new international hub will be Milan’s Malpensa airport (MXP), said Pietro Modiano, chairman of SEA, the company that manages the airport, Reuters reports.

The airline will also launch new domestic and intercontinental routes. From May 2018, it will expand its domestic services with new connections between Milan and several of Italy’s other major cities – Rome, Naples, Palermo, Catania and Lamezia Terme.

Three new international services will also be introduced: daily flights from Milan to New York and four flights a week from Milan to Miami, both starting in June, 2018; also, four flights a week from Milan to Bangkok from September 2018.

In 2019, Air Italy will add its first long-haul flights from Rome. Three new long-haul routes are expected to be announced by the end of 2018, The Local writes.