Qatar Airways (QR, Doha Hamad Int'l) CEO Akbar al Baker has confirmed rumours in the Italian media that his airline is interested in Italy's Meridiana (IG, Olbia). Al Baker reportedly made the remarks during an interview with local television Italy's La Stampa newspaper has said. The development comes just over a month after Etihad Airways (EY, Abu Dhabi Int'l) announced its plans to acquire a 49% stake in Alitalia (AZ, Rome Fiumicino) in return for an overall investment of EUR1.758billion (USD2.357billion).

Earlier this year, the Aga Khan Foundation (Geneva) announced the recapitalisation of Meridiana to the tune of EUR200million (USD278million) after the successful completion of a share buy-back scheme which saw him acquiring a 96.87% shareholding in Meridiana via his various firms. Among his intended objectives for the company were the proposed partnering with a foreign strategic partner.

It has since emerged that Qatar Airways representatives have spent time in Sardinia over past few months reviewing the airline though no official comment on their intention has yet been made.

CEO Roberto Scaramella told La Stampa that the carrier's current restructuring exercise, initiated last year, aims to take the carrier out of the 1990s and into modern times both in terms of its corporate make-up but also in terms of its business model.

Alongside plans to cut unprofitable routes and retire its A320-200, MD-82, and MD-83 fleets, Meridiana recently embarked on a controversial downsizing drive which will see an estimated 71% of the workforce or 1'500 employees being laid off.

Despite stiff opposition from unions, Scaramella hopes Meridiana will emerge rejuvenated, streamlined and above all more palatable to a potential foreign investor - in this case Qatar Airways.

In April this year, Al Baker announced Qatar Airways was on the hunt for what he termed "worthwhile investments" having already passed up offers for Air Seychelles (HM, Mahé), Jat Airways (JU, Belgrade), and Olympic Air (OA, Athens Int'l).