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Qatar Airways CEO: U.S. Airline Is Seeking Partnership With the Gulf Carrier

After being rebuffed by American Airlines, the Qatar Airways chief says an unnamed “startup airline” in the U.S. has invited Qatar to take a 25 percent ownership stake in its venture.

Speaking at the Kuwait Aviation Show on Wednesday, Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker indicated that his airline may end up with a significant ownership stake in a U.S. airline after all. The controversial airline executive told attendees that Qatar has been offered 25 percent ownership of an unidentified startup airline in the U.S.

Last year, Qatar Airways was forced to abandon an effort to purchase a 10 percent stake in American Airlines. The Gulf carrier seemed intent to purchase more than $800 million in shares of its US rival, with or without the blessing of American Airlines officials, but mounting resistance to the plan led Qatar Airways management to reconsider that position.

“While anyone can purchase our shares in the open market, we aren’t particularly excited about Qatar’s outreach,” American Airlines CEO Doug Parker said in comments critical of Qatar’s plans at the time. “And we find it puzzling given our extremely public stance on the illegal subsidies that Qatar, Emirates and Etihad have all received over the years from their governments.”

In his recent comments, first reported by Reuters, Akbar al-Baker declined to identify the US airline seeking an investment from Qatar. He hinted that because the new suitor is a privately held airline, there would be less likelihood of the deal falling through in the same way that the carrier’s plan for American Airlines fell apart.

Qatar is rumored to have expressed interest in purchasing a stake in JetBlue after its American Airlines strategy failed to materialize. It isn’t at all clear that JetBlue is actively seeking a substantial investment from Qatar. It is becoming clear, however, that the state-owned Gulf airline appears intent on becoming a serious stakeholder at a US airline.

“We have other opportunities, both in America and North America, which we will consider,” Akbar al-Baker told reporters in August after the American Airlines investment plan was scrubbed. “I have some things in mind. The U.S. is an important market for us.”

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