Posted on: 19 February 2018 by Mark Thomas
Italian airline Meridiana has been rebranded Air Italy, with the revamped operator aggressively targeting its struggling compatriot Alitalia via an ambitious fleet expansion plan and the help of its key shareholder Qatar Airways.
The Gulf carrier’s CEO, Akbar Al Baker, confirmed in a press briefing that Air Italy would eventually have a fleet of 50 aircraft, including 20 Boeing 787s and 20 B737 MAX 8s. The majority of those will be leased from Qatar Airways at market rates, with the B737s to be delivered starting in the next quarter over the course of the next three years. There will also be five Airbus A330s as part of the fleet renewal and expansion.
The rebranded airline will undergo a rapid expansion, including the addition of several new domestic and international long-haul services, based out of Italy’s Milan Malpensa airport. Passenger numbers are planned to rise fourfold by 2022 to around 10 million passengers annually.
Qatar Airways bought its 49% stake in the carrier’s parent company AQA Holding in September last year, while previous sole owner Alisarda retained its 51% share but has taken a backseat on this ride. Plans emerged late last year for the merger of Air Italy with Meridiana under the latter’s existing AOC.
With insolvent Alitalia under administration since last year, the move by Air Italy to launch new routes and expand its fleet is aimed at taking over the legacy carrier’s role as the country’s main player.
The first B737 MAX 8 will be added to Air Italy’s small existing fleet in April, with Al Baker saying Qatar Airways “fully supports plans [for Air Italy] to be the flag carrier of Italy.” The newly branded airline will also codeshare with Qatar Airways on certain routes, as it expands its existing network mainly servicing its hub in Palermo, Sicily as well as a couple of transatlantic flights to the US.
The new dual-class MAX 8s from the Gulf carrier’s existing order book will initially focus mostly on improving the airline’s regional service within Europe, while the A330-200s are likely to be used to boost its long-haul operations, supported later by the arrival of the planned B787s, with locations to include New York and Miami. Later this year Air Italy will also start flying to Bangkok in Thailand four times a week, while several other long-haul routes will be confirmed later in 2018. New long-haul routes will also be launched in 2019 departing from Rome.
Meridiana has transported over 100 million passengers to date, operating as both a scheduled and charter carrier, and has over 1,400 employees.