Qatar Airways CEO threatens to leave Oneworld alliance, is still interested in investing in a US carrier

  • Qatar Airways expressed an intent to purchase up to 10 percent of American Airlines in the summer of 2017.
  • American Airlines rejected the idea, and Qatar Airways backed off.
  • The three biggest Persian Gulf carriers had been locked in a feud with the three biggest U.S. airlines for years.
CEO of Qatar Airways Akbar Al-Baker 
Miguel Medina | AFP | Getty Images
CEO of Qatar Airways Akbar Al-Baker 

Qatar Airways, a longtime foe of the biggest U.S. carriers, is still considering an investment in an airline in the United States, CEO Akbar Al Baker told reporters at an event in New York on Thursday.

Qatar Airways in the summer of 2017 surprisingly expressed intent to buy up to 10 percent of American Airlines, a move that was rebuffed by the Fort Worth-based airline.

American, along with Delta Air Lines and United Airlines, had feuded with government-owned Qatar Airways and two other Middle Eastern airlines, Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways, over alleged government subsidies and their rapid expansion. The Middle Eastern airlines agreed earlier this year to make financial statements public to quiet the conflict, but the agreement stopped short of forcing the foreign carriers to cut flights.

Tensions continue over the issue, despite the agreements. Al Baker said he is considering pulling out of the Oneworld alliance, which includes American Airlines; British Airways' parent, International Airlines Group; Cathay Pacific; Qantas and Latam.

American Airlines announced it was ending its code-sharing agreement with Qatar Airways in March and a similar agreement with Etihad, saying "relationships between American and these carriers no longer make sense for us."

Al Baker accused American of creating a "bad feeling" and said the Qatar government can invest in its state-owned airline. He said he expects to make a decision "soon."

"American is a founding member of Oneworld, and we hope the alliance's membership remains intact," said American Airlines spokesman Matt Miller about Qatar Airways' threats to leave the group.

"As in any family, there are differences of opinion from time to time between individual members of the alliance," said Michael Blunt, a spokesman for Oneworld. "We always hope that they can be resolved quickly so all parties can come together to focus on the key issue for us all — providing great service for our customers all around the world."

But Al Baker, whose airline is a major customer of both Boeing and European rival Airbus, said he is still open to investing in a U.S. airline.

"Any stable CEO of an airline would want to invest in the United States," said Al Baker.

JetBlue Airways and Qatar Airways each have an investment in JetSuite, a private and scheduled charter company, but Al Baker declined to say whether his carrier would invest in JetBlue directly or any other airline.

"At the moment we are happy with what we have," he said. "As you know, there is a lot of resistance to Qatar Airways investing" in one of the three big U.S. airlines, but if the opportunity were to arise and it had the blessing of the U.S. government the carrier would be open to it, he said.

Al Baker also said he expects Qatar Airways to privatize in the next decade.

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