Air Italy wants to be the flag carrier of Italy, taking over beleaguered Alitalia’s long-held dominant position.
Air Italy is actually already Italy’s #2 carrier, still flying under the Meridiana name. Last year Qatar Airways acquired a 49% stake in the company. Now Qatar plans to transform the airline through a series of aircraft and route additions to compete head on with Alitalia.
Etihad vs. Qatar in Italy
Lest you think Qatar is walking into the same trap as Etihad’s investment in Alitalia, let’s note several key differences. First, Meridiana is privately owned unlike state-backed Alitalia. Second, Etihad took a surprisingly hands-off approach to its Alitalia investment, adding new uniforms and soft product enhancements, but little else. Third, Qatar is essentially starting over, remaking the airline in its own image and directing not only the soft product, but new routes and new planes. Finally, Air Italy stands to benefit from the joint venture (JV) relationship between Qatar and British Airways. If Air Italy becomes a BA codeshare partner, more business will be funneled to the fledgling airline.
Same Airline, New Aircraft, New Livery, New Routes
Currently, Meridiana has only 12 aircraft in fleets (737s and 767s). By 2022, it plans to have 50, including 30 787s!
- First Boeing 737 MAX by April 2018, 20 within three years
- Five ex-Qatar Airways Airbus A330s through May 2019 for longhaul routes
- 30 Boeing 787s leased from Qatar Airways will be gradually added starting in May 2019
Air Italy will shift out of its traditional bases in Naples and Palermo and operate primarily out of Milan Malpensa. New routes will include international service from Milan to:
- New York
as well as domestic service from Milan to:
- Lamezia Terme
Remember that Alitalia makes 15% of its ENTIRE revenue just on its New York routes.
In a press conference in Milan yesterday, Air Italy unveiled a new livery.
One Mile at a Time criticizes the new livery–
While I can see where the desire for burgundy comes from (it’s one of the primary colors that Qatar Airways uses), there’s absolutely nothing about the new livery that comes across as Italian. I will say that the new livery is distinctive, though there’s something about it that feels like it belongs to a budget airline rather than a full service airline.
And I 100% agree.
But liveries (generally) don’t sell tickets, so we’ll have to grin and bear it. Nevertheless, the livery is still disappointing. Perhaps the choice of livery colors (including Qatar’s signature maroon) has to do with the interior seat colors, though I’d imagine those could be replaced easily enough.
I’m not optimistic Qatar Airways can turn Air Italy into a profitable venture. But I’m not pessimistic either. And while I certainly don’t wish the end of Alitalia, a powerful competing carrier might give the Italian government more wiggle room in ending the never-ending bailouts to cash-strapped Alitalia.
> Read More: Alitalia 777 Business Class Rome to Los Angeles Review
Matt its my understanding that QR are leasing their existing 787s to Air Italy so these will have the existing QR 1-2-1 reverse herringbone seats instantly giving Air Italy an extremely good hard product.
And QR haven’t commenced or even published a plan for refitting any aircraft with QSuites so they’re not currently ‘ripping out’ seats anywhere!
I suspect the inability to fit QSuites into 787s and the subsequent delays/fleet un-uniformity in coming up with a different type of QSuite for the 787s may have heavily influenced Air Italys fleet strategy ; )
Ben, thanks for your helpful comment. I’ve removed one sentence from my post that was the source of confusion.
Livery reminds me a bit of Eurowings.
Interesting about the NY route and how critical it is for sustaining Alitalia. I wish them good riddance. Like everything else in Italy, it is destined to either go bankrupt or be bought by foreigners. Amazing inefficiencies!
I guess I don’t understand some of the finer points of what a 49% stake in another airline really entails…they can essentially drive all strategy/marketing/capex decisions? Do they flood the board with Qatar-friendly folks, or somehow appoint a new CEO? It’s like Al Baker is the de facto CEO even with a technically “minority” stake in the airline.
Interesting that QR is giving all of its relatively young fleet of 30 787-8 to Air Italy. QR doesn’t seem to be very happy with that sub-fleet. They’ll probably replace those with the bigger 787-9.
Apart from the tacky lively, i’m more optimistic about this venture than what Etihad did with Alitalia and Air Berlin. This seems to be a more hands-on approach and that could work.
Then again, Etiahd also had Etihad Regional (Darwin Airlines) which pretty much faced so much resistance expecially since EY was attempting to make it in the tough turf that Lufthansa dominates.
Only time will tell.
Flew Meridiana from Palermo to NY last summer and was impressed by everything but the ancient 767 we flew across on. If they upgrade their widebody fleet they will thrive. Just flew back again from FCO yesterday and its easy to see AZ’s once dominant footprint diminished to the point where one questioned if we were actually in its main hub. Its bittersweet and probably undeserving of what was once a hrand dame of the European skies.
Alitalia has had so many Lazarus-like comebacks, mostly funded by the state. Whilst there is undoubtedly a strong sentimental attachment to Alitalia it’s also wearing a bit thin these days, particularly after the union rejection of the deal to keep them afloat.
A Qatar deal with Meridiana is to be welcomed and , if it’s handled well, Alitalia can RIP.
“AirItaly” is Italy in name only, it seems. The aircraft livery looks more like Germany and Eurowings than Italy. The introduction video has almost no Italy in it, save some grated cheese. (In contrast, I loved Alitalia’s “Volare” introduction video.) And New Yorkers — many of which have heritage in Campania and Sicily — have lost their direct flights to Southern Italy at a time when direct flights to Milan are already some of the cheapest trans-Atlantic flights available, even at the last minute on full-service carriers.
It’s funny, though, that Italian aviation has basically become a proxy war between Qatar and the UAE.