Qatar Airways swoops for RwandAir stake and eyes bigger LATAM holding
February 05 2020 09:36 PM

Reuters Doha

Qatar Airways is in talks to buy a 49% stake in Africa's RwandAir and is interested in doubling its holding in LATAM Airlines Group to 20%, its chief executive said on Wednesday.

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

"We are very tough negotiators...we will take our time to negotiate," CEO HE Akbar al-Baker told reporters in Doha.

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

Qatar Airways, which flies to more than 160 destinations, 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, meaning that RwandAir could potentially carry passengers from Africa over the blocked airspace to the state-owned airline's Doha hub without restrictions.

Its CEO, Yvonne Manzi Makolo, confirmed to Reuters that talks to sell a stake were under way but declined to comment further.

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

Al-Baker, one of aviation's most well-known executives, 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," he told Reuters, adding that it would be interested in having the same size stake as Delta.

Delta has a 20% holding, double the 10% owned by Qatar Airways.

Delta surprised the industry when it announced in September that it was taking a $1.9bn 20% stake in the South American airline group.

Qatar Airways has also expressed interest in taking a stake in India's IndiGo and Morocco's Royal Air Maroc.

"In Africa, there is big demand for air travel and today Africa is very poorly connected so we always look at opportunities in our field for investment," al-Baker said.

Qatar's sovereign wealth fund is financing the expansion of Kigali Airport to raise its capacity to 10mn passengers a year, the Qatari official said.

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