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.