Meridiana aims to grow passenger numbers, fleet fourfold under new owners

MILAN, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Italian airline Meridiana will make Milan’s Malpensa airport its new hub, rename the carrier ‘Air Italy’ and aims to grow its fleet and passenger numbers fourfold by 2022 in a bid to become the country’s national carrier, executives said on Monday.

Meridiana was put under new ownership last year after Qatar Airways bought a 49 percent stake in AQA Holding, the Sardinia-based carrier’s new parent, with previous sole owner Alisarda retaining 51 percent.

Air Italy is Italy’s second-largest airline behind Alitalia, which was put under administration last year after workers rejected a plan to cut jobs and salaries.

However, with a new restructuring plan - that includes the launch of new domestic and intercontinental routes - Air Italy aims to become Italy’s “airline of reference”.

By 2022, the carrier expects “to transport 10 million passengers a year and have a fleet of 50 aircraft,” Chairman Francesco Violante said at the launch of the new brand in Milan.

Over the next three years, 20 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft will be added to Air Italy’s fleet, the first of which arrives in April.

Qatar Airways will lease five of its Airbus A330-200 to Air Italy “at market prices”, said CEO Akbar Al Baker.

No details of planned investments were disclosed.

Air Italy will fly out of Malpensa’s main terminal, said Pietro Modiano, chairman of SEA, the company that manages the airport.

Reporting by Massimo Gaia, writing by Agnieszka Flak, editing by Louise Heavens