Qatar Airways has made an unsolicited bid to take up to a 10% stake—an investment of at least $808 million—in American Airlines, an SEC filing American submitted Thursday revealed.
According to the June 22 filing, Qatar Airways would buy the stake on the open market. If that happens, it would make the Doha-based carrier one of American’s largest investors. Dallas/Fort Worth-based American stresses that the proposal was not solicited and says it “would in no way change the company’s board composition, governance, management or strategic direction.”
For now, it is unclear if or how the deal will proceed. In its filing, American states that its certificate of incorporation prohibits anyone from acquiring 4.75% or more of the company’s outstanding stock without advance approval from the board following a written request. The company’s board did not receive any written request from Qatar Airways, American says. American also notes that foreign ownership laws limit the total percentage of foreign voting interest in a US company to 24.9%.
In a statement, Qatar Airways said it sees a strong investment opportunity in American, but seemed keen to stress that it was not looking to interfere with the company’s management or operations.
“Qatar Airways believes in American Airlines’ fundamentals and intends to build a passive position in the company with no involvement in management, operations or governance,” Qatar Airways said. “Qatar Airways has long considered American Airlines to be a good oneworld alliance partner and looks forward to continuing this relationship. Qatar Airways plans to make an initial investment of up to 4.75%. Qatar Airways will not exceed 4.75% without prior consent of the American Airlines board. Qatar Airways will make all necessary regulatory filings at the appropriate time.”
Both airlines are oneworld global alliance members, but they are also rivals on either side of the fractious US Open Skies dispute. American is one of the three US major carriers campaigning against what they allege to be unfair, government subsidized practices by Doha-based Qatar Airways and UAE-based Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways. The US has Open Skies agreements with Qatar and the UAE, which has allowed the Gulf carriers to expand services to the US.
In its filing, American makes clear Qatar Airways’ bid does not change its viewpoint on this issue, stating, it “does not alter American Airlines’ conviction on the need to enforce the Open Skies agreements with the UAE and the nation of Qatar and ensure fair competition with Gulf carriers, including Qatar Airways. American Airlines continues to believe that the President and his administration will stand up to foreign governments to end massive carrier subsidies that threaten the US aviation industry and that threaten American jobs.
Qatar Airways has been on an airline investment spree. Late last year it acquired a 10% stake in LATAM Airlines Group, another oneworld member, and it has also increased its stake in IAG—parent of British Airways—to 20%.