Rebranded Italian airline Meridiana hopes to operate a fleet of 50 aircraft and carry 10 million passengers by 2022 after relaunching as Air Italy with the backing of Gulf carrier Qatar. The move is a direct challenge to troubled Italian flag carrier Alitalia as it continues to struggle through bankruptcy proceedings. Alitalia entered special administration last year after Qatar rival and 49 percent shareholder Etihad withdrew its support and Italian government has indicated there will be no resolution before elections on March 4. Qatar has taken a 49 percent stake in the new parent company of Air Italy with the previous sole shareholder, Alisarda, holding the other 51 percent. Read: Qatar takes stake in Cathay Pacific. The rebranded airline, which unveiled its new livery this week, will receive 20 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft over the next three years, starting April. It will also receive five Airbus A330-200 aircraft this year from Qatar ahead of these being replaced by Boeing 787-8 aircraft next year. Air Italy is also extending its reach with new routes from Milan to New York and Miami already announced. It said that would be followed new short-haul routes connecting Milan to Rome, Naples, Palermo, Catania and Lamezia Terme. Further plans included strengthening the short-range network to improve connectivity and launching the first long-range destination from Rome Fiumicino in 2019 with an aim of flying 50 year-round routes by 2022. Qatar chief executive Akbar Al Baker said the partners aimed to build a sustainable airline alternative for the people of Italy and global travellers visiting the country. “With high quality and an affordable schedule of services in the domestic, regional and intercontinental segments, Air Italy will achieve global scale in both fleet and network expansion, offering high-quality premium class products across all flights on a modern fleet,’’ he said in a statement. Meridiana chairman Francesco Violante said the airline expected about 8 million of the 10 million passengers it planned to carry by 2022 would use Milan Malpensa airport. “In support of this ambition, there is a great need to develop new skills and competences amongst our people and for all to embrace change as a fantastic opportunity,’’ he said. “I wholeheartedly support this new effort.” Meridiana says it has carried more than 100 million passengers to date as full-service carrier, operating both short-haul and long-haul flights. It has more than 1,400 dedicated employees, maintains codeshare partnerships with other major airlines, and is a full member of IATA. It is the biggest airline at Olbia Costa Smeralda airport.