Qatar Airways has been looking to expand its presence in India for years but in typically colourful fashion, the chief executive of the Doha-based airline Akbar Al Baker has told reporters he has no intention of investing in India’s struggling Jet Airways because substantial ownership of the carrier is owned “by the enemy of my country.”
Baker was referring to Etihad Airways which owned by the government of Abu Dhabi. The United Arab Emirates is part of a Saudi-led bloc of countries who imposed a blockade on Qatar in June 2017 over allegations that Doha was promoting terrorism and going against the region’s foreign policy direction which is dictated by Riyadh.
Doha has refused to concede to a number of demands which include closing down its infamous Al Jazeera news station and distancing itself from Iran which is seen as attempting to destabilise Saudi Arabia’s influence in the Gulf. The two sides have been at an impasse for some time and with no end in sight, Baker has become a major spokesperson for Qatar.
“We would definitely look at it (Jet Airways) if a 24 per cent stake was not held by Etihad,” Baker is quoted as saying by Reuters when he spoke to reporters at the sidelines of an aviation conference in Mumbai.
“How can I take a stake in an airline which is owned by our adversary?” Baker asked in relation to Etihad’s stake in Jet Airways.
Qatar Airways has been eyeing up a separate Indian airline for a number of years but last September Baker questioned confusing ownership rules which have so far stopped the airline from taking the plunge. At present, foreign airlines can take a maximum 49% minority stake in Indian airlines but Baker said his airline didn’t “know what is allowed”.
With current estimates suggesting that India will become the third largest aviation market in the world by 2025, Baker says he would be “delighted” to take a stake in rival IndiGo Airlines which is India’s largest airline by both passenger numbers and fleet size.
In a separate development, Etihad is rumoured to be considering taking a bigger stake in Jet Airways according to an anonymous source who is allegedly familiar with the matter. The Indian carrier has been struggling to pay debts for months and there’s much speculation that the airline could be on the verge of collapse if significant new capital isn’t injected soon.
Jet’s poor performance is a familiar story in India where airlines are struggling to make money despite booming demand. Overcapacity, airfare price wars, heavily taxed aviation fuel and layers upon layers of red tape are all contributing to razor thin margins.