A visitor trying Qatar First Class on the second day of Arabian Travel Market 2016 on Tuesday. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Dubai: Qatar Airways has increased its stake in the parent company of British Airways to “just under 12 per cent,” group chief executive Akbar Al Baker said on Wednesday.

The Middle East’s second biggest airline bought a 9.99 per cent stake in International Airlines Group (IAG) in January 2015. That investment came as Qatar Airways and British Airways were forming closer commercial ties.

“We are by far the largest single shareholder in IAG,” Al Baker said speaking to an audience at the Arabian Travel Market in Dubai.

The Qatar Airways chief declined to provide more details when asked by the press about the shareholding increase. He told the press Qatar Airways increased its stake “a long time ago.” He declined to specifically say when the stake purchase took place or how much was spent.

“As of today, we are just under 12 per cent. We were only a few months ago 9.99 per cent,” he told the audience earlier.

Al Baker also said his airline has received two dividend payments from IAG and is expecting a third soon.

Foreign ownership

IAG, whose airlines also include Ireland’s Aer Lingus and Spain’s Iberia, reported a 125 per cent rise in full-year operating profit of €2.32 billion (Dh9.6 billion) in 2015. It is expected to report its first quarter results shortly.

The first quarter is looking good, Al Baker said.

Qatar Airways is limited under foreign ownership rules to taking a minority stake and reportedly said in January 2015 that at the time it was not currently interested in a stake larger than its initial 9.99 per cent purchase.

Qatar Airways is also exploring stake purchases in Italian airline Meridiana and Morocco’s Royal Air Maroc. Al Baker said Qatar Airways’ part ownership would not necessarily mean Meridiana would act as a feeder airline flying to its Doha hub.

“Meridiana will be an independent Italian airline controlled by Italian management with Qatar Airways equity and with Qatar Airways technical know-how and Qatar Airways supplying them [with] new aircraft,” he said.