American Airlines CEO ‘Puzzled’ by Qatar Investment

Doug Parker said the ‘full court press’ against illegal subsidies to Qatar would continue
William SprouseJune 23, 2017

The CEO of American Airlines Group, Doug Parker, said he was “not happy” about efforts by Qatar Airways to buy a stake in the airline he helms, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

In a filing Thursday, American said it had been told by Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker about plans to buy up to 10%, at least $808 million, of American Airlines stock on the open market at Wednesday’s closing price.

American Airlines is among the U.S. and European carriers who have accused Qatar Airways, and other Gulf airlines, of benefiting from government ownership and subsidies.

“While anyone can purchase our shares in the open market, we aren’t particularly excited about Qatar’s outreach, and we find it puzzling given our extremely public stance on the illegal subsidies that Qatar, Emirates and Etihad have all received over the years from their governments,” Parker wrote in a letter to employees, referring to three Middle East airlines.

Parker promised his company would “not be discouraged or dissuaded from our full court press in Washington, D.C., to stand up to companies that are illegally subsidized by their governments.”

In a statement, Qatar said it planned to build a 4.75% stake in American then add to that after getting consent from American directors and U.S. regulators. It called American a “strong investment opportunity” but said its investment was intended to be a “passive position.” Parker told CNBC that Qatar has not explained its intentions, beyond that.

Parker said U.S. law prevented foreign entities from owning more than 25% of a U.S. airline, meaning “there is no possibility that Qatar will be able to purchase enough of American to control or influence our board, management or our strategy.”

In 2015, Qatar Airways initially acquired 9.9% in International Consolidated Airlines Group , the parent company of British Airways. It later raised the stake to 20%.

The United States is Qatar’s top destination and accounts for 8% of its total flying, Daniel McKenzie, an analyst at Buckingham Research Group, told the Journal.