Qatar Airways chief executive Akbar Al Baker has revealed that the airline is in dialogue about acquiring a stake in an unidentified airline.
He has also disclosed that he would be open to selling a minority shareholding to one of the international airline groups when the carrier launches its planned flotation.
Al Baker was talking during a cover interview for Flightglobal's Airline Business magazine. He says he is often approached by airlines about partnerships or deeper relationships - most recently Olympic - but is wary of jumping straight into a tie-up if there is no obvious benefit to Qatar Airways.
"We would be interested to buy a going concern that is profitable and doesn't need our management time. But I'm not interested in an airline that is in financial trouble and needs restructuring," he says.
There is interest in a strategic tie-up with a strong partner "like Lufthansa or British Airways" and Al Baker says he would also consider "an airline that has big potential and a solid management structure but needs a strong partner like us to take an equity share".
Ruling out any potential deal for Virgin Atlantic, which is seeking some form of strategic tie-up, Al Baker says talks are being held with "somebody who meets our conditions".
There has been press speculation that Cargolux is the airline that Qatar Airways is talking to, with regards to the acquisition of a 35% stake.
Qatar Airways has long been planning an initial public offering, but the timing is conditional on three continuous years of profit at the airline. "That means it could happen as early as 2013," says Al Baker.
He rules out any strategic deal to sell a stake in the airline ahead of the IPO, and says if another carrier or group wants a slice of Qatar Airways then that will be the time to do it.
The airline was rumoured to be on the "list" of potential partners drawn up by Willie Walsh, chief executive of International Airlines Group, the British Airways and Iberia parent.
Although Al Baker denies that any talks have been held about a tie-up, he says that the time for a group like IAG to buy shares will be when the airline floats.
"They can buy as many shares as they want of the percentage that will be floated - we have to keep in mind the sovereignty issue that the airline must remain majority-owned by Qatari entities," he says.
READ THE FULL COVER INTERVIEW FROM AIRLINE BUSINESS HERE
Source: Flight International