Qatar takes full control of national airline; interested in IndiGo

DUBAI Mon May 5, 2014 8:49pm IST

Qatari men take pictures after the Airbus A320-200 aircraft chartered by Qatar Airways landed at Doha's new Hamad International Airport (HIA), April 30, 2014. REUTERS/Fadi Al-Assaad

Qatari men take pictures after the Airbus A320-200 aircraft chartered by Qatar Airways landed at Doha's new Hamad International Airport (HIA), April 30, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Fadi Al-Assaad

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DUBAI (Reuters) - Qatar's sovereign wealth fund has bought the stakes in its national airline owned by a former prime minister and other shareholders, making Qatar Airways a fully government-owned entity, the carrier's chief executive said on Monday.

A government source told Reuters that Qatar wanted ruling family members to have fewer direct stakes in local businesses.

"There are changes happening. Qatar wants to have a fair and competitive business environment for everyone," the source said.

The deal is the latest shift in strategy to be implemented by Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, who took over from his father as Qatar's emir last June. He has replaced some senior economic officials, and in a policy speech last November said he was particularly keen to prevent high inflation and corruption.

Qatar Airways, which achieved a revenue target of over $10 billion in 2013, had been jointly held in a public-private partnership, with about 50 percent owned by the former prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani - a member of the ruling family - along with other investors.

"We became fully government-owned in July last year," the airline's CEO Akbar Al Baker said at a news conference in Dubai.

Baker declined to comment on the amount paid for the stakes by the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA) or to speculate on what triggered the change in ownership.

Sheikh Hamad was until last year chief executive of the QIA and was regarded as the driving force behind its emergence as one of the world's most sought-after investors, scooping up stakes in bluechip companies, luxury brands and real estate.

Last week, a fund owned by Sheikh Hamad struck a deal to buy British oil company Heritage Oil for 924 million pounds ($1.6 billion).

Baker said that after the ownership change the airline planned to announce its 2013 financial results before the third quarter of the year.

"We are a very profitable airline. We don’t announce the results because we were private and publicly held in the past. Now we will announce profits," he said.

INDIGO STAKE

Qatar Airways competes with regional rivals Emirates and Etihad Airways as the state-backed carriers rapidly expand their fleet and global reach.

It became part of the Oneworld global aviation alliance last year, the first Gulf airline to enter into an alliance.

Etihad has been expanding by picking minority stakes in carriers around the world including Air Berlin (AB1.DE), Virgin Australia (VAH.AX) and Inida's Jet Airways (JET.NS).

Baker said he was also interested in entering the Indian airline market, and would be keen for an association with India's IndiGo Airlines.

"We are always open to opportunities in India," he said.

"We would be very interested in IndiGo if there's something available there. But the airline is performing very well so I don't think they would be interested."

IndiGo declined to comment on Baker's remarks.

Baker added Qatar Airways was close to sealing a revenue-sharing partnership with British Airways, its Oneworld partner.

(Additional reporting by Amena Bakr in Doha and Devidutta Tripathy in New Delhi; Reporting by Praveen Menon in Dubai; Editing by Yara Bayoumy, Jason Neely and Mark Potter)

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