Air Italy Scales Back Intercontinental Network

 - February 1, 2019, 1:33 PM

Less than a year after taking to the skies with Qatar Airways as a 49 percent shareholder and a bold plan to deploy a fleet of around 50 aircraft by 2022, Air Italy appears to have curbed its ambition to rapidly build a long-haul network from Milan Malpensa Airport. The airline will end its three-times weekly nonstop service to Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport on February 17 and cancel flights to Delhi Indira Gandhi Airport starting March 29. The routes to India commenced only in December, and Air Italy serves them with Airbus A330-200s in a two-class configuration.

The route to Bangkok-Suvarnabhumi will become seasonal to match the variable demand throughout the year, the airline told AIN. It also will postpone the launch of its Malpensa to Chicago flights until 2020. It had planned to launch the route on May 14.

Air Italy cited a “combination of strategic network consolidation and route prioritization, aircraft delivery changes, and market dynamics,” for the network amendments. It points out that the modifications serve as part of its drive to achieve maximum profitability of the business. “By the end of 2019 we will serve a series of new intercontinental destinations in North America and Asia, connected seamlessly to and from our domestic network across Italy,” it added.

Some of the freed capacity will support the increase of summer frequencies from Milan Malpensa to Toronto from four times per week to six times per week and between Miami and Milan Malpensa from four times per week to five times per week. Toronto will launch on May 6.

Air Italy so far has not announced changes to the planned launch of services to Los Angeles on April 3 and to San Francisco on April 10, which have drawn fierce opposition from U.S. majors. American Airlines, Delta Air Lines, United Airlines, and several U.S. labor groups see Air Italy as a vehicle of Qatar Airways and consider the Italian carrier’s moves into U.S. gateways a violation of an agreement between the U.S. and Qatari governments reached last year, an allegation Air Italy denies.

In Europe, Lufthansa has joined the stance of the U.S. majors and in a recent letter to European stakeholders the German airline group calls into question Air Italy’s business rationale to enter the highly frequented Milan-New York route. “Qatar is driving other airlines out of the market with state subsidies,” it claimed.

Lufthansa also opposes an open skies agreement between the EU and Qatar. “Ultimately, the EU Commission is discrediting itself by signing an obviously one-sided advantageous EU agreement with a state such as Qatar, where neither nearly the same social conditions nor similar views on safeguarding competition apply,” it said.

Negotiations between Brussels and Doha have gone on for more than two years, and the parties held a fifth round and another set of technical discussions last month. Germany supported the mandate for the talks in 2016, but, according to Lufthansa, the framework conditions have changed since then.   

“In the context of current developments, such as Brexit and the growing shareholding activities of state-owned Qatar Airways in European companies, a complete liberalization of air traffic between the EU and Qatar is not appropriate [any longer] and should therefore be reconsidered,” it concluded.