Qatar CEO says American’s boss ‘frightened’ by investment plan

Qatar Airways flight from Doha lands at DFW

The airline wants to buy a 10% stake in American Airlines
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The airline wants to buy a 10% stake in American Airlines

Qatar Airways ratcheted up a war of words with Fort Worth-based American Airlines Group over its plan to take a stake in the carrier, with Chief Executive Officer Akbar Al Baker saying his U.S. counterpart, Doug Parker, is “frightened” by the proposed investment.

The Middle Eastern company intends to buy American stock if it’s attractively priced regardless of opposition from Parker, who has dismissed the move as “puzzling at best and concerning at worst,” Al Baker said Thursday in his first public comments since news of the strategy emerged last month.

“We will not impose ourselves on anybody,” he said. “However our filing is very well advanced and we hope to start buying shares on the open market soon. We want to be a strategic shareholder. We’re not telling them what to do.”

The value of Qatar’s investment to American will become apparent once the Middle Eastern operator purchases the 4.75 percent stake it can buy without seeking approval from American’s board, Al Baker told reporters. There are no plans to go beyond a 10 percent holding and certainly not to the maximum 20 percent available to a foreign carrier, he said. Neither will there be an attempt to secure a seat on the board of directors.

An American spokesman declined to comment beyond referring to Parker’s June 22 letter to employees, in which he said the airline isn’t “particularly excited about Qatar’s outreach.”

While Qatar Air and American are partners in the Oneworld global alliance, the planned investment still came as a surprise given recent tensions between the two carriers.

Parker has led calls from U.S. carriers to stem the expansion of Qatar and two other Persian Gulf operators, Dubai-based Emirates and Etihad Airways of Abu Dhabi, arguing that they have used illegal state subsidies to become global players.

Doug Parker
American Airlines Chairman and CEO Doug Parker. Paul Moseley Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Parker’s comments on Qatar are really aimed at “placating his unions,” according to Al Baker, who said that it has become difficult for U.S. carriers to backtrack on their subsidy claims. He added: “You have already seen the statement from my dear friend Doug Parker, who is part of our alliance, who is now frightened of a Oneworld carrier wanting to take a stake.”

The move for American comes with Qatar Air’s state owner embroiled in a political dispute with Arab neighbors over support for Iran and alleged funding of Islamic terrorism.

Asked whether he was planning further investments, possibly in Europe, Al Baker said that “a general never lays down his battle plans in advance,” adding: “We have been successful in surprising people and we will surprise people again very soon.”