Qatar Airways would back any IAG-Norwegian takeover, CEO says

CARDIFF, Wales (Reuters) - Qatar Airways would back partially-owned IAG ICAG.L if the British Airways-owner decides to proceed with a takeover of Norwegian Air Shuttle NWC.OL, Qatar's CEO said, while declining to give further details of his plans to set up a new airline.

A Qatar Airways Airbus A350-1000 is pictured at the Eurasia Airshow in the Mediterranean resort city of Antalya, Turkey April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Murad Sezer

Qatar Airways is IAG’s biggest shareholder with a 21 percent stake, theoretically giving it some sway over IAG’s strategy, which could involve the acquisition of Norwegian.

As for Qatar Airway’s own strategy, Chief Executive Akbar al-Baker was tight-lipped over plans revealed in April to set up a new airline, other than to repeat that he was interested in establishing an Indian domestic carrier.

When asked if he was interested in setting up a new airline in a country other than India he replied: “Maybe”, declining to give further details or say whether it would be a low-cost airline.

IAG, which also owns Iberia, Aer Lingus and Vueling, bought a 4.6 percent stake in low-cost player Norwegian in April, with a view to starting takeover discussions in a deal which would give it a leading position in the budget long-haul trans-Atlantic market. “Qatar Airways will always support IAG in anything they do,” Baker told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.

“Whatever they do to expand their business it has been thought after well and we will support them.”

Norwegian has said a number of groups have approached it since IAG took its stake.

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But Qatar, which also owns stakes in Cathay Pacific and Italy’s Meridiana, said it has no plans to take a stake in Norwegian.

“We leave that relationship to IAG,” Baker told Reuters.

The CEO was speaking in Cardiff, where Qatar Airways was launching a new route between the Welsh capital and Doha, which from June will be a daily service.

Baker said that Qatar Airways wanted to keep expanding in Britain. It already flies to four UK destinations, and in May will add London Gatwick as a fifth, and would like to launch a new route between Doha and Belfast, Northern Ireland, in future.

Reporting by Sarah Young, Editing by Paul Sandle and Adrian Croft