MILAN — Italy’s second-largest carrier by passenger numbers, Meridiana, has unveiled at a press conference in Milan its all-new image and corporate identity, changing its name to Air Italy.
“We will show that we are the star,” said Qatar Airways Group CEO, Akbar Al Baker, presenting the airline’s development plans.
Qatar Airways is Meridiana’s largest shareholder, with 49% of the airline’s shares.
The new carrier, which will be based in Olbia (Sardinia), intends to become the new leader in Italy with a brand-new fleet of 20 Boeing 737 MAX and 30 787 Dreamliners, all of which will be leased at regular market prices, according to Qatar Airways’ CEO.
“We want to become the number-one airline brand in Italy,” said Al Baker. “And we have the resources to accomplish this goal.”
Oggi 19/02 durante la conferenza stampa a Milano da poco conclusa, sono stati illustrati sviluppi successivi all’accordo Qatar Airways e Alisarda. Annunciate novità che riguardano la Compagnia: il piano di crescita, la flotta, il nuovo brand, la nuova livrea e nuovi collegamenti pic.twitter.com/Ndcjk7F4Eb
— Meridiana (@Meridiana) February 19, 2018
Al Baker also remarked that Air Italy will be the only carrier in the country that has not gone through a restructuring process, obviously pointing his finger at competing Alitalia (AZ).
Air Italy expects to fly over 10 million passengers by 2022.
“Air Italy aims to become a global industry leader, thanks to the new Milan-Malpensa hub, and to the consolidation of the operations in Rome-Fiumicino,” said Marco Rigotti, Alisarda’s President.
At the event, Al Baker, together with Mario Rigotti, Sultan Allana, and Francesco Violante (Meridiana’s President) presented the ground-breaking new image.
The new livery, presented on a Boeing 737 MAX 8, shows the typical Qatar Airways burgundy mixed with aquamarine colors on a white fuselage. Air Italy titles are placed centrally with an attractive tail design that takes the MAX’s winglets as a lead.
Al Baker remarked that his plan would enable Air Italy to hire “more than 1,5000 people”.
The first 20 737 MAXs would be arriving within the first three years of operations; the first of which will come by April 2018.
Five ex-Qatar Airways Airbus A330-200s will join Air Italy’s fleet until May 2019, when the first batch of 787-8/9 Dreamliners are expected to be delivered to the Italian carrier.
Al Baker also pointed out that Air Italy’s long-haul network will be based out of Milan-Malpensa (MXP), an airport that was abandoned by Alitalia when it chose to base its primary hub in Rome-Fiumicino (FCO).
“We will work to build an efficient company with high-quality services that represent an alternative for Italians and for all international tourists who want to visit Italy,” he said.
Air Italy’s first long-haul routes will be New York (JFK) and Miami (MIA), as previously announced last month, and will launch in June 2018.
The airline plans to establish a significant connecting hub in MXP, with long-haul routes fed by domestic and intra-European routes. According to Al Baker, the new Italian carrier plans to fly as many as 50 destinations within Europe by 2022.
On the domestic front, Air Italy will take advantage of its Boeing 737 MAX 8s on routes from Rome, Naples (NAP), Palermo (PMO), Catania (CTA) and Lamezia Terme (SUF) to MXP, starting on May 1, 2018.
In September, however, the airline plans to link MXP with Bangkok (BKK) four times per week, with an additional batch of new long-haul routes yet to be announced.
However, even though Air Italy’s primary focus will be in MXP, it was revealed that a few long-haul flights would also depart from FCO, entering in direct competition with Alitalia.
As reported by AviazioneCivile.it, Air Italy will be a full-service carrier with a Business Class available in all its planes and a “superior” Economy Class cabin.
Renderings of the new Business Class show a 2-2-2 configuration onboard an Airbus A330. The configuration of the upcoming 787s was not disclosed.
Francesco Violante, Meridiana’s CEO, added that travelers will have the opportunity to fly on brand-new, efficient aircraft in the utmost comfort, “led by the Qatar Airways quality” which has now arrived in Italy.
Al Baker also revealed that 20% of Air Italy’s net profits will be distributed among its employees.
It was not disclosed whether Air Italy will join the Oneworld alliance. However, the fact that Qatar Airways has an ownership stake in IAG (British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, and Vueling), suggests that a the new Italian carrier might jump onboard the current North Atlantic joint venture that these carriers are currently part of.
With this new carrier, fueled by the ambitions of one of the world’s most controversial and efficient airline CEOs, the threat on Alitalia is higher than ever before.
Many question whether this new carrier will be the final nail in Alitalia’s coffin or simply another Italian airline with a questionable future.
The old Air Italy, an Italian charter airline, was acquired by Meridiana in October 2011. It carried several routes under the Meridiana brand, today owned by Qatar Airways through AQA Holding S.p.A (49%) and Alisarda S.p.A. (51%).
Meridiana is an airline that operated scheduled and charter flights to domestic, European and intercontinental destinations from several Italian bases. It was set up with the name of Alisarda on March 29, 1963. On May 3, 1991, the name of the company was changed to Meridiana S.p.A. by shareholders.
Last year, Qatar Airways took a 49% stake in Meridiana, with Alisarda as the other shareholder. It has a fleet of 11 aircraft composed by one Boeing 737-700, seven Boeing 737-800s and three Boeing 767-300ER, all of which will be replaced with the brand-new fleet of Boeing airplanes.