Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker always has had a nose for smart deals. At the Qatar Airways/CAPA Aeropolitical and Regulatory Summit in Doha, he confirmed he is having a look at some new opportunities in the short and medium-term. The first is a 49 percent stake in Rwandair, the airline of Rwanda. The second is a ‘keen interest’ in IndiGo, while he likes to double his stake in Latam to 20 percent.
The state of Qatar and Rwanda announced a bilateral investment treaty in 2018 that was approved last year. This opens the door to Qatar Airways to approach state-owned Rwandair for a stake. This Wednesday, Al Baker confirmed he is seeking a 49 percent share, but the deal is not complete yet. “You’ll know that we are very tough negotiators. We will take our time to negotiate.”
Qatar had not been alone in courting Rwandair. Ethiopian is known to eye a stake and investment in the airline as well. However, there is no doubt that Qatar Airways wants negotiations to be successful as it seeks to expand its presence in Africa. The Qatar Sovereign Fund has a 60 percent share in the new Kigali Airport which should be ready in 2022.
Al Baker describes this as a logical investment. “The attraction of Kigali is its location, the stability of the country, and the very favorable business environment that exists in that country. In Africa, there is a big demand for air travel. Today, Africa is very poorly connected, so we always look at opportunities in our field to do investments”, Al Baker said.
Fresh funding would help Rwandair to modernize and expand its fleet, which currently consists of four Boeing 737-800s, two -700s, one Airbus A330-200, one -300, two Bombardier CRJ-900s, and two Q-400 turboprops.
The airline’s history dates back to 2002 as Air Rwanda but was rebranded as RwandAir in 2009. For all these years, the airline has been loss-making.
Then there is Al Baker’s interest to invest in IndiGo, the Indian low-cost that has seen rapid growth and on course for more with an ever-expanding Airbus A320neo-family fleet. Last November, both airlines announced a codesharing agreement on routes between Doha to Mumbai, Delhi, and Hyderabad. “IndiGo is the only airline in India that we are very keen to invest in, once the atmosphere exists that we could invest and benefit from the synergies of these two airlines”, Al Baker somewhat enigmatically said. “Don’t forget IndiGo is the largest domestic carrier and now they go international. They are very efficiently run and most importantly: it is a very profitable airline.”
Al Baker didn’t give an indication as to when expect the ‘atmosphere’ is ready to start talks, which have been rumored for some time.
Qatar Airways also eyes to increase its share in Latam Airways from 10 to 20 percent, giving it equal status with its co-owner and competitor Delta Airlines. The Americans acquired the share in September but the agreement still needs regulatory approval. Qatar has owned a stake in Latam since investing $608 million in 2016. Like with IndiGo, Al Baker said he will wait for the right moment and the right price to buy additional shares.
Not ruled out either: taking a stake into Royal Air Maroc, Al Baker said after the media conference. His airline also owns stakes in Air Italy (49 percent), Cathay Pacific (9,99), and China Southern (5 percent).
On February 19, Qatar announced it has increased its stake in International Airlines Group (IAG) from 21.43 percent to 25.1 percent for $600 million as “evidence of our continued support of IAG and its strategy.” The day before the airline announced a codeshare agreement with Bulgaria Air.