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Akbar Al Baker is not a fan of a certain US airline doing what he says is interfering in the business of Air Italy. And he doesn’t care how blunt it sounds, but he wants the US government especially to know that no fifth freedom terms are being violated.

The Qatar Airways CEO took part of his time at a press conference on Wednesday at ITB Berlin to address a question asked about the airline’s role in the ongoing tensions between US carriers, Qatar and Air Italy. The three major US carriers have accused Qatar of abusing its fifth freedom agreements by launching routes between the US and Europe with Air Italy, a small airline of which Qatar Airways owns a 49% stake. But, Al Baker remains adamant that is not the case.

“This is a lie. This is a straight, white lie,” Al Baker said in response to accusations that the carrier is violating fifth freedom agreements. “They cannot prove that we are putting a single passenger on Air Italy out of the Qatar Airways network.”

Instead of just defending Qatar’s stake in Air Italy, stating that it doesn’t own the airline and is just a minority shareholder, Al Baker went on to emphasize just why one particular US carrier is so adamantly pushing back against Air Italy’s growth in the US.

“They are challenging Air Italy’s operation in the United States because they don’t want competition for a merger that they are now talking into with Alitalia.”

Without explicitly stating the name of the airline, Al Baker was talking about Delta Air Lines, which has been the carrier most outspoken against Qatar. Delta’s recently detailed plans that it wanted to purchase part of the bankrupt Alitalia. Whether in conjunction with Air France-KLM, Virgin Atlantic or EasyJet, Delta’s stake in Alitalia would make it a competitor of Air Italy’s.

Al Baker emphasized that he doesn’t mind Air Italy competing against Alitalia — and therefore, potentially Delta — but he does think that Delta should be open to a little bit of competition.

“If they have so much confidence in their product, then they should invite even more frequencies of Air Italy because Air Italy has a better product than them.”

Air Italy is a relatively young airline, but has announced plans to expand rapidly in the US. The airline currently flies between Milan (MXP) and New York (JFK) and Miami (MIA) on A330s — read the business and economy class reviews. In December, the carrier announced plans to launch service to both San Francisco and Los Angeles in April 2019, and earlier this year it announced that it had to push the launch date of its Chicago (ORD) route to 2020.

Featured image by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy.

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