Sunday, 30 October 2011
I just learned that Qatar Airways might be about to acquire a 49% stake in Barcelona-based troubled airline Spanair. While I do not know the details of the deal, I can think of a few reasons why this could be a good move for all parties involved, as well as for Barcelona's airport.
First of all, is a matter of financial necessity and of urgency. Spanair is in a critical financial situation and, despite strong backing from the Catalan government, is quickly running out of cash. Since I wrote this note a few months back it seems Spanair's cash-flow position has only got worse.
An investor with deep pockets is needed in order to keep the airline flying and allow the Catalan government to save face and disentagle itself from an operation that is difficult to justify at a time of tough budget cuts, while claiming a partial success at keeping Barcelona's long-haul hub aspirations alive.
And this takes us to the next factor that I think it makes a tie-up with Qatar Airways a potentially interesting proposition and this is none other than opening a window to the East and to the globe's currently most dynamic economies. On June 2010 I commented on this blog how commercial aviation's center of gravity is moving East and any carrier and airport with aspirations should try to ride this trend. A link with Qatar would certainly help Spanair and Barcelona airport gain this intercontinental dimension they have been so much longing for.
A side effect of a re-capitalized Spanair is that it will put pressure on Vueling, Barcelona's other airline, that is already being squeezed by Ryanair's increasing presence at BCN. Having to face renewed competition from a stronger Spanair will certainly not help recover its margins. It will also prevent Vueling from becoming the only carrier able to build some sort of air hub at Barcelona. Although Vueling has been developing some flight connectivity at BCN there are serious doubts about Vueling's capacity to build a fully fledged hub at the shadow of Iberia, that remains its main shareholder, since any such move would risk cannibalizing Iberia's operations in its main Madrid hub.
In my next post I am going to present some interesting strategic questions that arise from the possible imminent completion of this deal...