Air Italy Eyes North America Expansion Despite US Airline Hostility

Air Italy plan to launch two new North American destinations from summer 2020. They recently launched seasonal flights to Toronto and are considering starting a year round service to either San Francisco or Los Angeles. This comes despite US legacy carriers lobbying to stop the airline flying to the US.

Air Italy
Air Italy want to launch more North American routes. Photo: Air Italy

Milan based Air Italy are planning to announce an additional two North American destinations for summer 2020. They already fly to five North American airports, which include seasonal routes to Los Angeles and San Francisco. Just this week, the airline added a seasonal service to Toronto in time for the summer.

Air Italy at Toronto
Welcoming ceremony for Air Italy at Toronto. Photo: Air Italy

In addition to this, the airline say they are considering making one of their seasonal Californian flights, either San Francisco or LA, a year round service next year.

Air Italy are being tight lipped about which destinations are under consideration but told Flight Global that at least one of the two is likely to be seasonal.

Political problems

Air Italy’s expansion into the US is being closely scrutinized by Washington. Lawmakers there say that these actions could be in violation of an agreement they made with one of Air Italy’s shareholders, Qatar Airways.

Qatar 777
Qatar own a 49% stake in Air Italy. Photo: Qatar

Last year, US airlines argued that it was unfair of Middle Eastern airlines to launch flights to the US, as they had an unfair competitive advantage. They claimed that Gulf airlines were being subsidized by governments, and therefore were outcompeting legacy carriers with low prices and better service. As such, an agreement was made that airlines such as Qatar would not launch any new services to the US.

The big three US airlines continue to allege that Qatar is simply using Air Italy as a way to expand into the US, thereby breaking the terms of the agreement. Dimitrov vehemently denies the claims, telling Aviation Analyst that “The accusations are ridiculous”.

Rossen Dimitrov
‘…accusation are ridiculous’ – Rossen Dimitrov. Photo: Air Italy

He points out that Qatar are a minority stakeholder, and that Air Italy is a European airline simply trying to expand into lucrative markets. They don’t even codeshare on routes at this time. Speaking to Flight Global, he said:

“We will be happy to work with American, Delta and United, I have all respect for them. Instead of us fighting, we could work together,”

However, the chances of one of the legacy carriers working with Air Italy are slim to none. This leaves them looking for interline agreements elsewhere. At JFK, JetBlue is a likely contender as the second largest airline after Delta.

The growth of Air Italy

A year ago, you’d barely have heard of Air Italy. Well, perhaps if you were an avgeek, but as the airline didn’t begin operating as it is now until February 2018, it was still relatively unknown.

Air Italy was formed by a merging of Meridiana and a subsidiary who were, unsurprisingly, called Air Italy. Taking the Air Italy brand, the new airline began to take the world by storm, thanks in part to a large investment from Qatar Airways.

Air Italy
Air Italy launched just 15 months ago. Photo: Air Italy

Qatar, owning 49% of the Italian carrier, have given them more than just money. They’ve instilled a sense of glamour, of measured expansion and of a customer experience to rival any Middle Eastern Airline.

So, while Alitalia battled with bankruptcy, bureaucracy and an outdated business model, Air Italy burst onto the scene, instantly winning customers and the affection of the Italian people. Growth over the past year has been steady, adding well thought out routes that are gift wrapped money makers.

Although the airline is yet to turn a profit, Chief Operating Officer Rossen Dimitrov told Reuters that they expect to become profitable ‘very soon’. That’s despite almost a quarter of their tiny 13 aircraft fleet currently being grounded.

The rise of Air Italy has proven that even in these testing times and the cutthroat European aviation market, there is still room to succeed. Their resilience at pushing forward with routes they believe in, despite the resistance of policymakers, shows just how determined they are to do well. We’re looking forward to seeing what’s next for the small Italian airline that could.