Early this year, the Sardinia-based carrier Meridiana, buoyed by a 49% equity investment from Qatar, rebranded itself as Air Italy and shifted its hub to Milan Malpensa Airport. Those moves set the stage for Air Italy's introduction last month of daily, year-round U.S. service, featuring flights between Milan and New York JFK as well as Milan and Miami. Airlines editor Robert Silk caught up last week with Ron Glickman, Air Italy's country sales manager for the U.S., to discuss the new routes and the carrier's broader plans.
Q: What are your long-term goals for the U.S. market?
A: We would like to see a deep development of our network and lift coming out of the United States. One of our short-term goals is we look forward to introducing the American traveler more to Italy and some cities they may not be familiar with and also to our other destinations. We have service to Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana and to Cairo and Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, for instance, as well as destinations such as Delhi and Mumbai [in India]. So there is a lot of opportunity for us to carry flyers beyond Italy.
Q: Some of those destinations, for example the Indian cities, sound like the type of markets that Qatar, your 49% owner, as well as their Gulf competitors Emirates and Etihad compete on from the U.S. Is that part of air Italy's mission in the U.S., to augment connecting Qatar service to India and Africa?
A: I can't comment on any other airlines. I would say our goal is to connect people to our network destinations.
Q: How will you be able to compete with American, Delta, Emirates and Alitalia out of JFK? It's a crowded route.
A: We understand that there's healthy competition on JFK-Milan in particular. Some of the product offerings we have onboard, I think, are quite unique to Air Italy. We really pride ourselves on a high-quality product that is complemented with Italian style and flair. It is experienced by the flyers who get onboard in both cabins. For example, we have turndown service with mattresses and pajamas in business class. That's not something you see a lot in the transatlantic market
Q: With whom do you partner?
A: We have codeshares with British Airways, Iberia and S7 in Russia. Those aren't impacting flights from the U.S. right now; it's more for service in Europe. It's also important to note that Meridiana Club participates in Avios points, so you collect and use rewards on British Airways and Iberia flights.
Q: Air Italy plans to nearly quadruple its fleet over the next five years. Broadly, how do you see your route map expanding during that time?
A: We've been very public with the fact that we will take delivery of 50 aircraft. We have announced already the India flights. Our executive chairman, Marco Rigotti, has been public that we are to open another Asian route by the end of the year.
Q: Will the U.S. feature in your near-term expansion?
A: Like the rest of the network we are reviewing the options available to future service, but for the U.S., we are content with our service to New York and Miami. We are very much focused on measured growth in terms of the airline. We are not looking to jump into things in the American market.
Q: You changed your name early this year from Meridiana. Why did you do that?
A: We are looking to spread the heart and soul of Italy throughout the world and become a national icon. We believe that the rebranding helps us achieve those goals.
Q: Alitalia has been going through bankruptcy for the past year, and its future is uncertain. Would you like to take its place as the Italian airline of record?
A: Our goal is to position ourselves and to provide a safe and reliable service to the American and Italian traveling public. We do see an opportunity for us in the establishment of a hub to provide connectivity to a region of Italy we believe was underserved.
Q: How much influence does Qatar Airways have in your strategic decision-making?
A: In terms of the operations and management, no. We operate completely separate from them. There is no day-to-day management.
Q: Would Air Italy like to join Oneworld alongside Qatar and your partners British Airways, Iberia and S7?
A: We're certainly interested in expanding our partnerships with regard to other airlines. But I cannot comment as it pertains to any specific alliance or partner.