The US Department of State is "very closely" scrutinising the acquisiton of a 49% stake in Air Italy (IG, Milan Malpensa) by Qatar Airways (QR, Doha Hamad Int'l), which Congress members see as potentially bypassing the restrictions of the US-Qatari air traffic agreement, Reuters has reported.

"We’re looking very closely at this recent decision by Qatar to take on 49% of this airline," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during a hearing at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Senators from both parties earlier raised concerns about the transactions, pointing out that it could be a means to bypass the January 2018 agreement between Washington and Doha. In that agreement, reacting to a barrage of accusations from the US airlines, Qatar Airways agreed to disclose its finances and suspend adding new routes to the US.

The Qatari carrier acquired 49% in Meridiana (IG, Olbia) in 2017. It subsequently rebranded the airline as Air Italy and provided it with five sub-dry-leased A330-200s.

Excluding cargo flights, Qatar Airways currently flies 75x weekly to the US from Doha Hamad Int'l, serving New York JFK (2x daily), Atlanta Hartsfield Jackson, Boston, Chicago O'Hare, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston Intc'l, Los Angeles Int'l, Philadelphia Int'l, Washington Dulles (all daily), and Miami Int'l (5x weekly). Air Italy operates an additional 20 weekly flights from Milan Malpensa to the US, serving Los Angeles (4x weekly), Miami (5x weekly), New York JFK (daily), and San Francisco, CA (4x weekly). The Italian carrier's flights to the US are not covered by the code-share agreement with Qatar Airways.