“No! We are not interested in Air India,” Akbar Al-Baker, CEO of Qatar Airways, replied to a question on the airline’s interest in Air India.
Al Baker, however, reiterated his interest in buying a stake in IndiGo. “We are only interested in IndiGo,” he said to a follow-up question on the airline’s interest in inorganic growth opportunities in India.
The government is brainstorming to make the sale of Air India
a success after a failed attempt last year. The government this time has decided to sell 100 per cent of the airline and pass on only about half the total debt to the buyer.
A team of officials from the civil aviation ministry and the Department of Investment and Public Asset Management (Dipam), and transaction advisor EY will later this month visit Singapore and then London to drum up investor interest for Air India.
Attracted by the Indian market’s exponential growth, Al Baker had earlier publicly expressed desire to start an airline out of the country. However, he blamed restrictive rules of India as the reason for not going ahead with his plans. "India has one of the most restrictive markets. It should look at further opening the aviation sector in favour of economic growth and to enhance employment,” he said. India doesn’t permit a foreign airline to hold more than 49 per cent stake in indigenous airlines which is according to the Substantial Ownership and Effective Control Norms of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Most countries restrict majority foreign ownership in their airlines.
Qatar Airways’ growth in India has suffered as the country has been reluctant towards increasing flying rights to the gulf nation. Qatar had asked for an increase in the weekly quota to 66,374 seats, up from 24,292 at present. The country has also sought the government’s permission to land its aircraft in seven additional cities, apart from the current 14.
On Thursday, Qatar Airways
signed a codeshare pact with IndiGo which will help bridge some of the challenges it is facing due to lack of seats. As part of the agreement, Qatar Airways
will place its code on IndiGo flights between Doha and Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad, starting Thursday. This is the second codeshare agreement for IndiGo after it signed one with Turkish Airlines earlier this year.
IndiGo CEO Ronojoy Dutta said this was the beginning of a partnership, which both airlines wanted to take forward.
“We are open to bolstering this partnership and include all destinations that IndiGo flies to. The only thing is IndiGo will take a little bit more time to roll out their systems to be able to do a code-share with Qatar Airways. Qatar has no problem to give onward flying rights to IndiGo,”Al Baker said.