Qatar Airways eyes 10% stake in American Airlines

The Qatar Airways office in Riyadh. The carrier was named the world's top airline for passenger service by Skytrax at the Paris Air Show this week, but could face business pressure should the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and its neighbours drag ou
The Qatar Airways office in Riyadh. The carrier was named the world's top airline for passenger service by Skytrax at the Paris Air Show this week, but could face business pressure should the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and its neighbours drag out.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW YORK • Qatar Airways, its Middle Eastern business pressured by a diplomatic row with neighbours, is seeking as much as a 10 per cent stake in American Airlines, the US carrier said on Thursday.

The surprise investment push by Qatar Airways was disclosed by American Airlines in a securities filing on Thursday saying that the Qatari company planned to buy at least US$808 million (S$1.12 billion) of American Airlines shares.

In addition, Qatar Airways' chief executive told his counterpart at American Airlines that the carrier sought a stake of about 10 per cent.

The outreach drew a frosty response from the US carrier, which said the intended purchase "was not solicited by American Airlines and would in no way change the company's board composition, governance, management or strategic direction".

American Airlines' by-laws require board approval for stakes of 4.75 per cent or more. Qatar Airways said it would not exceed this level without board approval and would "make all necessary regulatory filings".

"Qatar Airways sees a strong investment opportunity in American Airlines," the company said in a statement. "Qatar Airways believes in American Airlines' fundamentals and intends to build a passive position in the company with no involvement in management, operations or governance."

The move comes after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates severed ties with Qatar over its alleged support for extremist groups and Iran. The countries have suspended all flights to and from Qatar. Qatar's government denies the allegations.

Qatar Airways has downplayed the impact of the dispute on its business, saying on June 14 that the "vast majority" of its network was unaffected. But analysts have warned that the profitable carrier could take a hit should the diplomatic crisis drag out.

At the Paris Air Show this week, Qatar Airways was named the world's top airline for passenger service by Skytrax, a closely watched industry prize.

The airline's chief executive Akbar al-Baker used the occasion to blast Qatar's regional rivals. "At these difficult times of illegal bans on flights out of my country by big bullies, this is an award not to me, not to my airline, but to my country," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'Qatar Airways eyes 10% stake in American Airlines'. Print Edition | Subscribe