Qatar Airways is in talks to buy a 49% stake in Africa’s RwandAir and is interested in doubling its holding in LATAM Airlines Groou to 20%, its chief executive said.
A stake in an African airline would widen its reach in one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation regions and potentially help bypass restrictions imposed by some Arab states.
“We are tough negotiators … we will take our time to negotiate,” CEO Akbar al-Baker told reporters in Doha.
State-owned Qatar Airways owns stakes in British Airways parent International Airlines Group China Southern Cathay Pacific and LATAM.
It bought holdings in other airlines after the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia banned it from their airspace following a regional political dispute.
Qatar Airways, which flies to more than 160 destinations, was forced to fly longer routes to avoid blocked airspace of some neighbours.
The ban does not apply to non-Qatari airlines flying to Qatar, meaning RwandAir could potentially carry passengers from Africa over blocked airspace to the state-owned airline’s Doha hub without restrictions.
RwandAir flies to 29 destinations, mostly in Africa, but also to Dubai, Mumbai and Brussels.
Its CEO, Yvonne Manzi Makolo, confirmed talks to sell a stake were underway but declined to comment further.
Qatar Airways agreed in December to take a 60% stake in a new airport in Rwanda.
Baker, one of aviation’s most well-known executives, said the airline could increase its holding in LATAM and was working with fellow shareholder Delta Air Lines.
“When the right opportunity comes and at the right price, we will look at increasing our investment in LATAM,” he told Reuters, adding it would be interested in having the same size stake as Delta. Delta has a 20% holding, double the 10% of Qatar Airways.
Delta surprised the industry when it announced in September it was taking a $1.9 billion 20% stake in the South American airline group.
Qatar Airways had a contentious relationship with Delta and other major US carriers, which accuse Gulf airlines of receiving unfair government subsidies, distorting competition and costing Americans jobs. Gulf carriers reject the accusations.
Baker said there is no ill-feeling towards Delta and Qatar Airways is willing to work with the US airline at its Atlanta hub.
“We can transfer passengers to each other. We are the only Middle Eastern carrier going to their hub so there is opportunity,” he said.
Qatar Airways also expressed interest in stakes in India’s IndiGo and Morocco’s Royal Air Maroc.