Air Italy folds despite support from Qatar

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February 12, 2020
Air Italy liquidation Qatar
Air Italy . Photo: Qatar.

Air Italy, the Italian Airline partly-owned by Qatar Airways and the Aga Khan’s Alisarda SpA, is being liquidated and its services assumed by other carriers.

The decision to wind up the airline was taken at a shareholders meeting on Tuesday and the airline said flights between February 11 to February 25 would be operated by other carriers at previously scheduled times.

Doha-based Qatar took a 49 percent stake in what was then Meridiana in September 2017, and the airline was relaunched in 2018 with a colorful rebranding and predictions it would have a fleet of 50 aircraft and 10 million passengers by 2022.

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The move was a direct challenge to troubled Italian flag carrier Alitalia as it continued to struggle through bankruptcy proceedings after Qatar rival and 49 percent shareholder Etihad withdrew its support.

But 2018 losses at Air Italy, which operated on international and domestic routes using a mix of Boeing 737 and Airbus A330 aircraft, of about 160 million euros ($US175m) widened to 200 million euros in 2019.

The owners blamed “persistent and structural” market conditions for their decision to liquidate. although Qatar indicated it was prepared to continue to work on turning around the airline if all shareholders had agreed.

The “liquidation in bonis” means passengers will be able to fly on services according to original schedules using existing tickets until February 25. Booked flights after this date will be re-protected or fully refunded.

A company statement said the arrangements had been made with “the aim of minimizing the inconvenience for passengers holding Air Italy tickets”.

It said those on flights scheduled to depart until February 25 and return after this date would take on the outward journey according to the original schedule and then be offered a travel option on the first available flight on another carrier.

Alternatively, passengers could opt for a refund for unused flight segments via [email protected]

Those with return flights after February 25, will need to seek a refund via the web, an Air Italy ticket office or their travel agent, depending on how they booked the ticket.

Qatar said in a statement that it had always strongly believed in the company and in its potential.

It said it had supported management’s proposed business plan with a view to improving Air Italy’s growth and job creation as well as “the addition of long-haul routes and numerous in-flight service improvements”.

“Despite our minority shareholder’s role, Qatar Airways has continuously provided all possible support to Air Italy right from the beginning, from releasing aircraft from our fleet and ordering new aircraft for Air Italy, to backing management choices and injecting capital and investment as required and permitted,’’ it said.

“Even with the changing competitive environment and the increasingly difficult market conditions severely impacting the air transport industry, Qatar Airways has continually reaffirmed its commitment, as a minority shareholder, to continue investing in the company to create value for Italy and the traveling public and to provide support for Air Italy and its staff because for Qatar Airways the focus on employees is a core priority in its strive for excellence – in addition to supporting local communities and other stakeholders.

“For this reason, Qatar Airways was ready once again to play its part in supporting the growth of the airline, but this would only have been possible with the commitment of all shareholders.”

The Italian government continues to seek investors for Air Italia, which was put into special administration in 2017 and thrown a lifeline via a government bridging loan.