Qatar Airways ratcheted up a war of words with American Airlines Group Inc. over its plans to take a stake in the U.S. carrier, with Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker saying his counterpart Doug Parker is “frightened” by the proposed investment.
The Persian Gulf company intends to buy up American Air stock assuming it remains attractively priced regardless of opposition from Parker, who has dismissed the plan as “puzzling at best and concerning at worst,” Al Baker said Thursday in Dublin.
“We will not impose ourselves on anybody,” the executive told reporters in the Irish capital. “However our filing is very well advanced and we hope to start buying shares on the open market soon. We want to be a strategic shareholder. We’re not telling them what to do.”
The value that Qatari investment could bring to American will become apparent once the Mideast operator purchases the 4.75 percent stake it’s able to buy without seeking approval from the Fort Worth, Texas-based company’s board, Al Baker said. There are no plans to go beyond a 10 percent holding and certainly not to the maximum 20 percent available to a foreign carrier, he said. Neither will there be an attempt to secure a seat on the board.
While Qatar Air and American are partners in the Oneworld global alliance and each counts British Airways as their closest global partner, with Qatar owning a 20 percent stake in BA parent IAG SA, the planned investment still came as a surprise given recent tensions between the two.
American Air and Parker have led calls from U.S. carriers to stem the expansion of the three biggest Gulf operators, also including Dubai-based Emirates and Etihad Airways of Abu Dhabi, arguing that they have unfairly benefited from illegal state aid.
The Mideast majors say they’ve benefited from no more than seed capital many years ago and have become world players thanks to a strategy of exploiting the Gulf’s position at a natural global crossroads to carve off a significant share of the most lucrative long-haul transfer traffic.
The purchase of American Airlines stock would mark a fourth foray into foreign investment by Qatar Air following its IAG deal, the acquisition of a 10 percent holding in Latam Airlines Group SA, the biggest South American carrier, and a planned 49 percent stake in minor Italian carrier Meridiana SpA.
Parker is really concerned about “placating his unions,” Al Baker said, and that it has become difficult for U.S. carriers to backtrack on their subsidy claims. He added: “You have already see the statement from my dear friend Doug Parker, who is part of our alliance, who is now frightened of a Oneworld carrier wanting to take a stake.”
The investment move comes with Qatar Air’s state owner embroiled in a political dispute with Arab neighbors over the support for Iran and alleged funding of Islamic terrorism.
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