Air Italy chief customer experience officer Rossen Dimitrov has stressed during the Farnborough air show that the relaunched Meridiana is "an Italian brand" and that its relationship with Qatar Airways is simply about "learning".
The Italian carrier's activities at the show are heavily tied to the presence of 49% shareholder Qatar Airways. Air Italy has a Boeing 737 Max 8 on display alongside Qatar Airways aircraft and is conducting operations from the Doha-based carrier's chalet.
But for Dimitrov, himself an ex-Qatar Airways executive, the Italian start-up has a clear identity of its own. "We look at Air Italy as an Italian brand... Qatar Airways is a brand on its own. Qatar Airways is a global brand."
He adds: "It's good to learn from Qatar Airways, but in no way do they tell us how to position our brand or how to design our services or product."
The 737-8 displayed at the show – freshly delivered from Boeing and on lease from Qatar Airways – will be the Milan-focused carrier's second of the type when it enters service. Air Italy also has three Airbus A330s in service – similarly on lease from Qatar Airways – alongside ex-Meridiana 737s and 767s which will be phased out as the new types arrive.
The exterior and interior colour schemes chosen for the new Air Italy brand are heavily based around "Qatar maroon".
But while Dimitrov acknowledges that its 49% shareholder is an "inspiration", he insists that the Air Italy offering has been developed for the local market: "We learn from the best, and it's always good to have [Qatar Airways] to help us, but everything you see on board from our menus to our amenities – it's all inspired by Italy... There's no better place than Italy to get inspired for fashion, design and food."
Asked how he views Air Italy's overall pitch to passengers, Dimitrov says: "Obviously we would like to be a premium carrier, and we would like to offer more than our Italian customers are getting currently from other carriers."
He acknowledges that the adoption of the new Air Italy brand has been a significant cultural change for staff, and notes that there is still work to be done on the carrier's service proposition: "Meridiana was more of a leisure, charter airline and so on; it was a very mixed operation... At the moment we are designing entirely new training based on present and future service propositions. You have to invest in your people to set you up for success."
Air Italy was launched in February by Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker as a direct competitor to ailing Italian flag carrier Alitalia.