Air Italy will lease Boeing aircraft from shareholder Qatar Airways as the relaunched Meridiana embarks on a rapid fleet expansion programme.

"The airline will grow substantially using modern, efficient Boeing aircraft tailored to the needs of the market," said Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker as Air Italy was unveiled in Milan on 19 February.

Al Baker confirmed that those aircraft will come from Qatar Airways' leasing company "at market rates".

Qatar Airways is currently adjusting to the impact of its home country's diplomatic and airspace isolation. FlightGlobal schedules data shows that the carrier is set to undertake 1,824 fewer flights in March 2018 versus the same month last year.

That stymied network means it might welcome the opportunity to find an alternative home for some of its incoming aircraft.

Al Baker is clear, however, that Air Italy will not get any special favours from its 49% shareholder.

"In the future, [Air Italy] will be in a position to buy its own aeroplanes, once we make this airline strong," he says. "However, during the interim we don't give anything for free. Especially from Qatar Airways. Everything has to be for a price."

Meridiana's current fleet of 12 aircraft comprises seven Boeing 737-800s, one 737-700, three 767-300ERs and one 767-200ER.

Those types will be phased out as part of rapid fleet expansion over the next three years, with Qatar Airways and majority shareholder Alisarda targeting a fleet size of 50 aircraft by 2022.

To that end, the Milan Malpensa-based carrier will receive the first of at least 20 737 Max aircraft in April 2018.

"Air Italy is committed to receive Boeing 737 Maxes from this April – more than 20 such aircraft over the next three years will be replacing the [737s currently] operated by this airline," says Al Baker.

Air Italy did not confirm which Max variant it will receive, but Qatar Airways firmed an order for 20 Max 8s at last year's Paris air show, and it retains options and purchase rights for 40 more of the aircraft.

Speaking in Paris, Al Baker said: "The first Maxes will be delivered in small numbers and will replace older A320s that are going out of service from our mainline fleet." But the 737s now appear to be heading to Italy instead.


Meanwhile, five Airbus A330-200s will be transferred to Air Italy "immediately from Qatar Airways' fleet" on a temporary basis, Al Baker says.

Flight Fleets Analyzer shows Qatar Airways has 13 A330-200s in service, with no outstanding orders.

The A330s will eventually be replaced in Air Italy's fleet by Boeing 787-8s, beginning in May 2019.

"Next year we will be introducing five 787s leased from Qatar Airways," says Al Baker.

Flight Fleets Analyzer shows Qatar Airways has 30 787-8s in service and 30 787-9s on order.

The aim is to expand Air Italy's fleet to 30 787-8s by 2022, alongside at least 20 Max jets.

Air Italy aircraft will feature business-class cabins as part of a "premium", "full-service" airline product. Economy seats will have a 21in pitch, and cabins across both classes will have power sockets and IFE options, Al Baker says.

The aircraft will also offer in-flight wi-fi.

As he was plotting an all-Boeing near-term future for Air Italy, Al Baker also had some words of encouragement for Airbus. "I see my friend from Airbus in the crowd," he said in Milan. "I don't want you to get disheartened because there will always be opportunities for you also as the airline grows beyond the 50-aircraft fleet that we today have announced."

CORRECTION: The original story stated Qatar Airways has eight A330-200s in service. It has 13 in service.

Source: Cirium Dashboard