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Qatar Air eyes stake in India’s IndiGo, wary on A380neo

Akbar Al Baker, CEO of the Doha-based carrier, says he would ideally like to buy to 49 per cent of IndiGo

By Matt Smith

May 6 (Reuters) – Qatar Airways would be interested in buying up to 49 percent of India’s IndiGo though the owners of the sub-continent’s largest carrier by market share have no immediate plans to sell, the Doha-based airline’s chief executive said on Wednesday.

IndiGo, owned by hospitality and travel company InterGlobe Enterprises and founded in 2006 by entrepreneur Rahul Bhatia and ex-U.S. Airways chief executive Rakesh Gangwal, is preparing to file a draft prospectus by May for a stock listing to raise $300 million to $400 million, sources told Reuters in March.

Qatar Airways would ideally like to buy to 49 percent of IndiGo, Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of the Doha-based carrier, told a news conference in Dubai.

“We’re not in talks, we have a personal relationship between us and the owner of IndiGo,” Al Baker said.

“He has indicated they are not planning to sell a stake in IndiGo, but once they consider he knows I’m interested.”

He has also discussed Airbus’s possible plans to revamp its A380 superjumbo with new engines, known as the A380neo, with the plane manufacturer’s chief executive.

“I told him this aircraft needs a fuel (efficiency) improvement of 10-15 percent and this would really sell the numbers he expected with the current Airbus A380,” said Baker.

“This will have to be a joint effort between (the) engine manufacturer and Airbus, it’s not just the airframe that is the issue, it’s the fuel burn, which is coming from the engine.”

Al Baker said he would travel to Washington next week to respond to accusations by U.S. airlines and their unions that Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad Airways received more than $40 billion in subsidies from their home governments.

“It took two years to compile all the data that they fictitiously created to confront competition – we also need that much time to respond to those fictitious allegations against the Gulf carriers,” said Al Baker.

He expressed doubts that the United States would alter an existing open skies agreement with Qatar.

The row between Gulf airlines and U.S. carriers threatens to sour the industry’s biggest annual event in Miami next month, when the International Air Transport Association is due to hold a meeting of the heads of over 200 airlines, chaired by the head of Delta Air Lines who is the sternest critic of Gulf carriers.

The row flared again earlier this week when Qatar Airways announced new routes to Los Angeles, Boston and Atlanta, drawing further U.S. industry criticism of the recent strong expansion of Gulf airlines.

Al Baker said there was nothing unusual about the decisions.

“We’ve been operating into the United States well within our bilateral air services agreement,” he said. (Reporting by Matt Smith, Editing by Tim Hepher)