Qatar Airways Looks at Loaning Wide-Body Jets to British Airways

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(Bloomberg) -- Qatar Airways is considering loaning planes including wide-body models to British Airways in a move that would soak up excess capacity at the Gulf carrier while easing fleet pressures at the U.K. operator as some of its own Boeing Co. 787 jets get emergency overhauls.

Qatar Air is evaluating the situation and could trim frequencies on some routes to free up aircraft for BA, whose parent IAG SA is 20 percent owned by the Mideast group, Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker said in an interview.

While Qatar Air previously loaned Airbus SE A320 jets to British Airways after a Saudi-led blockade forced it to close some Gulf routes, the transfer currently under scrutiny would be the first involving long-haul planes. Al Baker has said his company suffered a significant loss in the year through March, partly as a result of westbound flights being diverted to avoid closed airspace.

“If we have to help them due to their current predicament we will do our best, even if it means reducing some frequencies from our current network,” Al Baker said in Cardiff Wednesday after Qatar Airways began flights to the Welsh city. The company doesn’t have spare aircraft as such but there are destinations where the timetable may be “excessive,” he added.

777X Delay

British Airways has taken delivery of 26 787s out of an order for 42, all powered by Rolls-Royce engines stricken by design flaws that are causing parts to deteriorate quicker than planned. Regulators have ordered extra shop visits for the model and put limits on its operating envelope.

Al Baker said Boeing’s new 777X aircraft, of which Qatar will be one of the first recipients, is currently running about two months behind schedule, while suggesting the model should still meet targets for its first flight and delivery.

“There’s a small slippage but I’m sure that it’s so small that they will catch up,” he said, adding that General Electric Co. has provided assurances that development of the plane’s engines is proceeding as planned.

Qatar Airways will back IAG if chief Willie Walsh decides to go ahead with a bid for Norwegian Air Shuttle ASA, Al Baker said, adding that he’s confident that will happen only after the London-based group has conducted very extensive due diligence. Qatar has no seat on IAG’s board and “doesn’t interfere” in its affairs, the CEO said. His airline won’t itself be investing in Norwegian, he said.

IAG Stake

The executive said that while his company is not currently looking at increasing its stake in IAG, it doesn’t rule out doing so in the future. “If there is an opportunity, that there is still a place for foreign ownership, Qatar Airways has such high confidence in IAG that we wouldn’t mind going higher,” he said.

A 9.99 percent holding in Cathay Pacific won’t now be increased, he added.

Among other investments, Meridiana SpA, renamed Air Italy, will have five Airbus A330s and eight Boeing Co. 737 Max aircraft by the year’s end, the CEO said. Qatar Air has a 49 percent stake in the carrier which it’s seeking to set up as a rival to Alitalia SpA, whose restructuring has been delayed.

Plans to establish a carrier in India, the fastest-growing aviation market, remain “on the radar,” but the airline has encountered “mixed signals” from authorities, having earlier got the green light to move forward, Al Baker said.

Qatar Air is also carrying out due diligence for the acquisition of a 25 percent stake in Moscow’s Vnukovo airport. The move would mark the carrier’s first investment beyond Doha’s Hamad airport and is attractive because the Russian capital’s biggest hubs, Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo, are both full, he said.

The group’s latest investment last month in U.S. charter carrier JetSuiteX, in partnership with JetBlue Airways Corp., presents a “very, very good success cocktail,” Al Baker said. The deal comes eight months after American Airlines rejected Qatar Air’s plan to take a stake, and following assurances in January that the Mideast airline won’t seek to serve the U.S. via third countries.

Al Baker said he’ll follow the route to Cardiff and the launch of flights to London Gatwick later this month with services to Belfast in Northern Ireland, giving Qatar Air seven U.K. gateways.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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