By Alex Macheras
It’s been a busy week for aviation news across the Middle East. On Wednesday, Qatar Airways Group increased its shareholding in International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG) from 21.4% to 25.1%. It means Qatar Airways now own over 25% of one of the world’s most successful airline groups, compromising of British Airways, Iberia, Aer Lingus, Level & Vueling.
Last month the IAG board removed the maximum share limit that a non-EU entity could hold in the company, paving the way for Qatar to increase its shareholding in the airline group. It’s quite the jump from the initial 9.99% stake Qatar ingested in IAG back in January 2015 — but with a steady performance, continuous growth, and solid results, the investment is likely to continue to deliver significant returns to shareholders.
The fresh investment resulting in a 25% stake follows a period in which IAG's share price has risen a huge 52% over just six months despite the challenges and headwinds facing the global aviation industry, including trade tensions and Britain’s departure from the European Union.
Furthermore, IAG Group intend to have their acquisition of Spain’s second largest airline Air Europa completed in the second half of 2020 — but this timeline this could slip, given the necessary approvals needed, not least from the European Commission over competition rules.
Willie Walsh, the current CEO of IAG will stand down from the role of CEO and from the Board of IAG on March 26 and will retire on June 30. In Doha recently, Walsh told me “I shall be watching with great interest and having a laugh at all of the hard work my colleagues will be doing over the years ahead”. He also took the opportunity to endorse Qatar’s decision to invest in a 49% stake in the flag carrier of Rwanda, Rwandair. He explained “The transformation of the aviation industry in Africa over the next ten years will be one to watch. This is evident in the investment Qatar Airways is making in Rwanda”.
Elsewhere, a commercial airline jet landed on Wednesday at Aleppo International Airport for the first time in eight years. It’s the first scheduled flight to touch down in the country since the war cut off most of Syria over eight years ago.
The reopening of the airport comes days after the Russian-backed Syrian army said it had seized rural areas northwest of Aleppo. Flights from Aleppo to Cairo, and then eventually to Beirut, Dubai, Moscow & Yerevan are expected to begin this year. Aleppo Airport has capacity for 1.7mn passengers per year but has been closed since 2012.
The first commercial flight in eight years was operated by a Syrian Air Airbus A320 from Damascus.
*The author is an aviation analyst.
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