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Gulf carriers expand stakes in other airlines


One of the big sales announced at this week's Farnborough Airshow wasn't about buying planes; it was Qatar Airways' announcement that it's buying 49% (the maximum allowed) of Meridiana, Italy's second-largest carrier.

That's a continuation of a trend in which the cash-and-oil-rich Gulf carriers are trying to extend their partner networks and perhaps defuse some of the heat they've been getting from other airlines over their growth. A Qatar rival, Etihad, already owns 49% of Italy's other major airline, Alitalia. Etihad money has allowed Alitalia to refresh its fleet and markets.

It's not Qatar's first step in this direction: it already owns 15% of International Airlines Group, the holding company for British Airways, Iberia, Vueling and Aer Lingus. And it has said it wants to buy 10% of LATAM, South America's biggest carrier.

Etihad, based in Abu Dhabi, also has 'equity partnerships' with Jet Airways, Virgin Australia, Air Serbia and Air Berlin. In some of these cases, the investment amounted to rescue money for cash-starved companies. Some, like Air Berlin, continue to struggle and have switched to leasing rather than owning planes to save cash.

The partnerships and codeshares that result from some of these deals have potential implications for the three big airline alliances, since numbers of these equity deals cross alliance lines.

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