American Airlines president Tom Horton believes that restrictions on the foreign ownership of US carriers would be relaxed before he retires, giving hopes of a full merger with British Airways and Iberia (The Australian, 01-Aug-2011). The US restricts foreign ownership in domestic carriers to 25%, although Washington is under pressure from the EU to relax these rules. Mr Horton stated: "This alliance agreement with BA and IAG is effectively a synthetic merger. Over time - I think in my working lifetime - foreign ownership rules in the US will become more flexible. This alliance could form the basis of a cross-border merger between our airlines."
American Airlines president hopeful of full merger with British Airways
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Qatar Airways buys 10% of oneworld's LATAM, to add to its 15% in IAG
Enter Qatar Airways. As Etihad Airways looks to bed down its investments in other airlines, Qatar is gradually expanding its airline investment portfolio. Qatar's 15% stake in IAG is now being followed with a 10% stake in LATAM for USD613 million – nearly 1.5 times Qatar's net profit of USD446 million, disclosed (for the first time) on the day prior to the LATAM equity announcement. It is a safe investment; LATAM group has a strong market position and its share price has remained strong even in the face of a brutal downturn in Latin American economies.
Qatar gives LATAM needed cash and a distant shareholder. Latin America is the smallest market by far for Gulf airlines, but while currently in the economic doldrums, has a longer term potential for growth. It is also a key future market for US airlines, albeit very small on the Gulf airlines' networks. Qatar is spending nearly EUR2.5 billion on equity investments, still smaller than Etihad's but illustrating a willingness to acquire airline assets, for investment and strategic reasons. In this case the immediate strategic purpose for Qatar is less apparent.
Star Alliance's privately owned Avianca is also considering a strategic shareholder; that would mean five of Latin America's eight largest airline groups could have an airline investor from outside the region.
IAG keeps FY2016 guidance in spite of weak unit revenue as 1Q2016 results benefit from low fuel
IAG's financial results for 1Q2016 are the first indication from a leading European legacy airline group of how this year is working out financially. For IAG the seasonally weak first quarter went well, with operating profit increasing by more than six times and the net result recording a rare positive figure.
Unit revenue weakness, seen in 2015, continued into 1Q2016 and accelerated its fall after the Brussels terrorist attacks. Coming relatively soon after the Paris attacks, this event may have a slightly longer impact than previous incidents of this nature. IAG's unit cost fell more rapidly than unit revenue, thanks to lower fuel prices. With pricing expected to remain a little softer than previously anticipated, IAG is accelerating cost measures and expects underlying ex fuel unit cost to fall by 1% in FY2016.
IAG still expects more than EUR900 million of year-on-year operating profit improvement in 2016, with a further margin increase. The IAG group is already the most profitable of Europe's three leading legacy airline groups, and the gap looks set to widen this year.