Qatar Airways Not Buying Malaysia Airlines but Willing to Help

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Qatar Airways group chief executive officer Akbar Al Baker says “the world’s best airline” is willing to help turn around Malaysia Airlines Bhd.

Akbar, however, ruled out Qatar Airways acquiring the beleaguered national carrier.

He said the state-owned carrier of Qatar has strong capability to expand its presence in Southeast Asia without having to buy an airline.

“We do not have any interest to acquire Malaysia Airlines because we are strong enough to expand in the Southeast Asian region.

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“Hence, we do not need (to take over) another airline,” he told the New Straits Times (NST) in an exclusive interview in Langkawi yesterday.

Akbar did not eleborate how Qatar Airways can help Malaysia Airlines, although both airlines have had close code-share relationship since 2001 which was expanded last year.

“We will see if there is anything we could do to help Malaysia Airlines turn around. However, we cannot divulge the details in public as the conversation was with Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad,” he said.

Nevertheless, Akbar is confident that Malaysia Airlines has huge potential to revive its fortune as the airline was an important economic part of Malaysia.

Qatar Airways – voted ‘Airline of the Year’ for the fifth time by the 2019 World Airline Awards, managed by international air transport rating organisation Skytrax – currently has more than 25 flight frequencies to Malaysia a week.

Akbar’s remarks have indirectly dismissed reports that the airline was the sole foreign company to have sent in a proposal to take over Malaysia Airlines.

People familiar with the matter confirmed to the NST that the national carrier had not received any proposal from Qatar Airways.

Dr Mahathir recently said the government had received four takeover offers for Malaysia Airlines, the majority of which were from locals.

It was reported that Malaysia Airlines parent Khazanah Nasional Bhd aimed to finalise a takeover deal by the end of this year.

In July, Khazanah hired Morgan Stanley as an independent advisor to look at strategic options that could save the loss-making Malaysia Airlines.

Meanwhile, Akbar said Qatar Airways would continue growing the airline’s business locally via additional flight frequencies, while bringing in more tourists to Malaysia.

“This will contribute to the Malaysian economy. We also have the open sky regime with the Malaysian government, which allows us to increase our frequencies,” he added.

He said Qatar Airways had been expanding and taking market share from its peers, without relying on merger and acquisition.

“Our merger and acquisition is for strategic purposes but not to grow our market share. That (expansion) portion of our investment has no relation to the growth strategy of Qatar Airways but rather for our strategic purposes and it is not for our growth purposes.

“We have our own plans on how we want to grow, and we are very successful in doing that by targeting markets that others have shy away or others that felt it was insignificant,” he said.

Akbar said the airline had recorded a double-digit growth, despite the ongoing illegal blockade from neighbouring countries.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain have imposed a blockade on Qatar since 2017.

“But since then, we have come back to the pre-blockade growth trajectory that the airline is now going through,” he said.

Akbar also said the airline was consistently focusing on offering innovative products and services to its passengers to sustain its “world’s best” status.

“We continuously improve our products and put innovative concepts for our passengers. This is why Qatar Airways has continuously been voted for a long period of time – the best airline in the Middle East and for the last eight years – we have been five times accorded the airline of the year and three times being the runner-up.

“Most importantly, we are the best airline in the Middle East region for the past 17 years,” he added. – NST