Qatar Airways in talks to buy 49% stake in Rwanda’s state carrier

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Qatar Airways is in talks to buy a 49% stake in Rwanda’s state carrier, RwandAir, the Gulf airline’s chief executive officer has said.

A stake in an African airline would widen the company’s reach in one of the world’s fastest-growing aviation regions, and potentially help it bypass restrictions imposed on it by some Arab states.

“We are very tough negotiators … we will take our time to negotiate,” Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker said in the Qatari capital of Doha.

Qatar Airways already owns stakes in British Airways-parent International Airlines Group, China Southern, Cathay Pacific and Chile’s LATAM Airlines Group.

It bought some of its stakes in other airlines since once-lucrative markets the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia banned it from its airspace in 2017 amid a regional diplomatic rift.

Qatar Airways has been forced to fly longer routes to avoid the blocked airspace of some of its neighbours.

The ban does not apply to non-Qatari airlines flying to Qatar. RwandAir could potentially carry passengers from Africa over the blocked airspace to the state-owned airline’s hub in Doha without any airspace restrictions.

There was no immediate comment by RwandAir.

Qatar Airways agreed in December to take a 60% stake in a new airport in Rwanda.

Al-Baker also said the airline could be interested in increasing its holding in LATAM and working with fellow shareholder Delta Air Lines.

“When the right opportunity comes and at the right price we will look at increasing our investment in LATAM,” Al-Baker told Reuters News Agency.

Qatar Airways, which holds a 10% stake in the South American airline group, would be interested in having a stake that is the “same like Delta”, he said.

Delta surprised the industry when it announced in September it was taking a 20% stake in LATAM.

Qatar Airways has historically had a contentious relationship with Delta and other big US carriers, which have accused Gulf airlines of receiving unfair government subsidies, distorting competition and costing Americans jobs. The Gulf carriers have rejected such accusations.

However, Al-Baker said he had no ill-feeling towards Delta and was willing to work with the US airline at its hub in Atlanta.

“We can transfer passengers on each other. We are the only Middle Eastern carrier going into their hub so there is huge opportunity,” he said.

Qatar Airways has also expressed interest in taking a stake in India’s IndiGo and Morocco’s Royal Air Maroc. A transaction with either airline has yet to take place.

The story was first published by Al Jazeera.

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