Qatar Airways today published a PR note about its investment in Air Italy.   The note starts like this: “Following recent false accusations relating to Qatar Airways’ shareholding in Air , such baseless statements and consistent inaccuracies need addressing as a matter of urgency.” Which is pretty intense language.

Why are the US Big Three are concerned with Air Italy?  As Qatar points out: “The “Big 3” U.S. carriers have consistently demonstrated their hostility to new entrants into the U.S.-Europe market, and their attacks on Air Italy based on the identity of its minority shareholder are just another manifestation of this hostility. Air Italy, the carrier the “Big 3” cite as a major “threat” to their survival, has a fleet of just 15 aircraft and only serves one U.S. city – New York – with a daily service while other routes, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco are operated at a lower frequency.”

Here’s what we know from the data. From the T-100 data, source we can see how much traffic there was and how it moved between the US and Italy.  The 2018 data was updated today to include traffic through October.

Origin Market Italy:

  •  The US airlines carried more traffic than EU airlines in 2018, even if you combine the Middle East numbers with the EU.
  •  The #1 carrier in2018 was Alitalia, followed by the Big Three. Meridiana (now Air Italy) doesn’t really feature.
  •  From the origin side, the Big Three concern about Air Italy and Qatar seems spurious. Emirates, on the other hand, is a player.

Destination Market Italy:

  •  The data show that the USA flag carriers carry most of the traffic.
  •  Alitalia is the biggest carrier, followed by the Big Three.
  •  The Big Three carry more than double what Alitalia did in 2018.
  •  Air Italy is a bit player.  The Big Three concern with Qatar and Air Italy is odd when one looks at the growth of Emirates.

The market is worth ~12,000 daily passengers.  Compare this to about 50,000 passengers daily between the US and UK. There are probably bigger issues for the Big Three to be worrying about.  But what the Big 3 don’t want is to see fares go down substantially, particularly for premium class service.  As a me too industry, where everyone tends to follow, matching lower fares would impact profitability, something the Big Three are trying to stop from happening.  Mr. Al-Baker at Qatar is not shy about speaking his mind, and in this case, is right.  Open skies are open skies.

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