Qatar Airways confirms strategic tie-up plan with Cargolux deal

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Gulf carrier sees acquisition of 35% stake in Luxembourg-based freight airline as a 'strong move' for both parties

Qatar Airways has made good its plan to pursue strategic partnerships, signing a deal to buy a third of freight airline Cargo­lux. The Qatari flag carrier's chief executive Akbar Al Baker expects the tie-up to be finalised by early June, once regulatory approval is received.

The signing of a memorandum of understanding to take a 35% stake in the Luxembourg-based airline comes some six years after talks began, Al Baker tells Airline Business. "We first became interested in acquiring a shareholding in 2005. It is a strong move for both airlines. There will be so many synergies that benefit us both and it will make Luxembourg a stronger [cargo] hub."

The transaction should "hopefully" be completed in early June, says Al Baker, once regulatory approval is received. "I will then be able to disclose more details about the tie-up," he adds.

Cargolux operates an all-cargo fleet of Boeing 747 freighters, with 12 aircraft in service and a further 13 on order. These are flown on an international scheduled network from Luxembourg as well as on charters. Wholly owned Italian arm Cargolux Italia operates from Milan.

Qatar Airways is expanding its dedicated cargo division, which has a growing network from Doha. The fleet currently comprises three Airbus A300-600Fs and two 777Fs, with a further four on order. The airline plans to begin transferring freight-converted A330s from its passenger fleet from 2012 as they are replaced by new 787s.

Al Baker says that the tie-up will see the two airlines feeding each other's hubs and that Cargo­lux could be interested in taking some of the converted A330Fs, which Qatar Airways will transfer to its leasing arm.

Cargolux has multiple shareholders, with local passenger airline Luxair holding the largest stake (52.1%). In a 2009 restructuring, Cargolux shareholder SAirlines (part of the defunct Swissair Group) sold its 33.7% stake to three existing shareholders (including Luxair) and a new shareholder: the Luxembourg state. Al Baker did not disclose the source of the Qatar Airways stake or whether the deal would make it the largest shareholder.

During his recent Airline Business cover interview before the announcement about Cargolux, Al Baker outlined plans to investigate strategic tie-ups with other airlines. "We would be interested to buy a going concern that is profitable and doesn't need our management time," he said.

View our video and cover interview with Qatar Airways boss Akbar Al Baker at: flightglobal.com/AlBaker