Qatar Airways has increased its stake in British Airways parent International Airlines Group (IAG) to 20.01 per cent, a move it said was spurred by the company's recent market valuation.
The state-owned carrier, already IAG's largest investor, increased its holding from 15.67 per cent on July 28, the company said in a statement on Monday. It has invested in IAG since January 2015.
IAG shares have fallen by nearly a quarter since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union (EU) on June 23. The company, which also owns Ireland's Aer Lingus and Spain's Iberia, cut its earnings outlook for 2016 on July 29, citing the vote.
"The recent market valuation of one of the world's leading airline groups has provided what we believe is an attractive opportunity to increase our shareholding in IAG," Qatar Airways group chief executive Akbar Al Baker said in the statement.
British shares have also become cheaper with the pound falling by around 10 per cent against the dollar since the Brexit vote. The Qatar riyal is pegged to the dollar.
Al Baker said the airline does not plan to further increase its shareholding "unless there are material changes to the current situation.
"We continue to be highly support of IAG's strategy and management team," he said.
Qatar Airways has previously said investing IAG would bring down costs for both companies through joint procurement deals.
"Qatar [Airways] sees a real strategic benefit in its tie up with IAG," John Strickland, aviation expert and director of UK-based JLS Consulting, told Gulf News by email.
"The networks of IAG carrier British Airways and that of Qatar [Airways] are highly complementary allowing both to extend their traffic reach."
British Airways started direct flights to Qatar Airway's Doha-hub in October 2015 after operating flights via Bahrain for 57 years. On June 3, Al Baker said Qatar Airways would soon start flights to Aer Lingus' Dublin-base. Aer Lingus has also said it is looking at flights to Doha.
Qatar Airways' latest IAG stake increase is its third foreign investment announcement in the past month. On July 12, it said it would buy as much as 10 per cent of South America's biggest carrier, Latam, and two days later said it had agreed to buy 49 per cent of Italy's second largest airline Meridiana.
Qatar Airways is restricted to owning 49 per cent of any European carrier, including IAG, under non-EU ownership rules that require any EU airline to be majority-owned by EU shareholders.
By Alexander Cornwell
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