October 17, 2019 / 7:14 AM / a month ago

In wake of Delta deal, Qatar Airways says could consider raising LATAM stake

* Qatar has 10% of LATAM, Delta to buy 20%

* U.S. airlines and Qatar have fought over subsidy claims

* Qatar still considering whether to exit oneworld alliance

By Liz Lee

LANGKAWI, Malaysia Oct 17 (Reuters) - Qatar Airways CEO Akbar al-Baker said his airline would consider lifting its 10% stake in LATAM Airlines Group SA if the opportunity came up - comments which come after Delta Air Lines Inc agreed last month to buy 20% of the Chilean carrier.

But al-Baker also noted that LATAM’s free float was limited. Currently around 48%, according to Refinitiv data, it could fall to as low as 28% depending on the take up of Delta’s tender offer for shares.

Qatar Airways has historically had a contentious relationship with major U.S. carriers, which have accused Gulf airlines of receiving unfair government subsidies, distorting competition and costing Americans jobs. The Gulf carriers have rejected the accusations.

Delta’s $1.9 billion deal with LATAM ended the Chilean airline’s long-time ties with American Airlines. It came after the Chilean Supreme Court denied a proposed venture between LATAM and American on competition grounds.

Al-Baker said Qatar Airways, which has an independent member on the LATAM board, did not have prior notice of the Delta deal.

“We don’t dictate to LATAM how they should conduct their business,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of at an event to launch a new route from Doha to Langkawi. “(It) is absolutely their prerogative with whom they want to have shareholding, with whom they want to work with.”

He offered praise for Delta, saying it had “outmaneouvred” American.

After the Delta deal was announced, LATAM said it would exit the oneworld alliance. Qatar Airways is also a member of oneworld, although it has publicly threatened to leave the group since a 2017 attempt to buy a 10% stake in American was rebuffed.

“We have not made our final decision but we are still considering withdrawing,” al-Baker said of oneworld on Thursday. “We have been requested by other major players in the alliance to hold on, to see if they can repair the impasse that we have between us and American Airlines.”

He said Qatar had expected a “major change” at the last American board meeting but that did not occur. He declined to say whether it was a reference to the oft-speculated departure of American CEO Doug Parker, who is under pressure from shareholders and customers over the carrier’s performance.

The Qatari carrier this week hosted LATAM’s board of directors and senior management in Doha for three days, during which they agreed to expand their codeshare agreement with LATAM Airlines Brazil to destinations including Malaysia. (Reporting by Liz Lee; Writing by Jamie Freed; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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