Qatar Airways acquired a 35 percent strategic stake in Cargolux, Europe’s biggest all-cargo airline, on Thursday taking a major step toward its goal of becoming one of top players in global air freight within five years.
The Gulf Arab carrier didn’t say how much it is paying for its share of the Luxembourg-based cargo airline but industry analysts put the cost at between $225 million and $295 million.
Qatar Airways is taking over the 33.7 percent stake that the Luxembourg government and other state-controlled groups acquired from former SAirlines, a unit of the now defunct Swissair, during Cargolux’s financial restructuring in 2009.
The two carriers, which also signed a draft commercial co-operation plan, said they will disclose further details of the transaction at its closing which is expected “in the coming weeks.”
“Our investment in Europe’s leading cargo carrier Cargolux boosts our ambition to become one of the major players in air freight by 2015,” Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Jabr Al Thani said at the signing of the deal in Luxembourg.
“We have identified numerous synergies owing to the complementary nature of our businesses that will enable us to develop scale and reach and strengthen our respective hubs in Luxembourg and Doha,” said Cargolux CEO Frank Reimen.
Qatar Airways, half-owned by the oil and gas rich Gulf state’s sovereign wealth fund, plans to sharply increase its freight capacity by converting 15 of its Airbus A330 passenger jets into freighters starting in 2012.
“We seek to fuel our growth plans by including air freight as a major part of our product offering,” Qatar Airways CEO Akbar Al Baker said.
The carrier currently operates three Airbus A300-600 freighters and two Boeing 777 freighters with a further three on order.
Cargolux operates 16 Boeing 747-400 freighters serving 90 worldwide destinations and will take delivery later in the year of the first of 13 747-8 freighters for which it is the launch customer.
Cargolux, which is 52.1 percent owned by Luxembourg flag carrier Luxair, swung to a $59.8 million profit in 2010 from a $153.3 million loss in 2009 to end three straight years in the red. The freight airline is appealing a fine for price-fixing in Europe and its top two executives are facing criminal charges in the antitrust investigation in the United States.
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