A friendly warning to Air Italy: learn from the mistakes of others, for you cannot live long enough to make them all yourself.
On the one hand, this is all good news. Very good news, in fact. With limited direct competition and an above-average product, Air Italy may perform exceptionally well on these routes. Italy remains, and will likely always remain, a beloved tourist destination and important business hub in the fashion industry. The demand appears to be there.
My problem is not that of the 12 U.S. Senators who argued that Air Italy is flying routes it would not otherwise be able to sustain without Gulf subsidies provided by Qatar Airways. It is certainly not that these new flights represent an insult to Donald Trump.
Rather, my problem is that too ambitious of an expansion has spelled trouble for so many airlines in the past. Our most recent example is WOW Air, which was well-capitalized from the start, but burned through far too much cash far too quickly.
Different airline, different model, I know. But what about Alitalia? In the case of that beleaguered carrier, Etihad poured millions into it, promising a lean, profitable, and exceptional Italian airline. Sound familiar?
While we hope that Qatar Airways has learned from the mistakes of the failed Etihad-Alitalia marriage, I am not fully optimistic. Labor is an ever-present concern in Italy. Last month, Air Italy workers held a four hour strike. Imagine a four day strike, or worse.
Let’s just play out one potential scenario. Air Italy continues to expand but struggles to profit early on. Qatar pulls funding, leaving the carrier forced to rapidly cancel routes. Italy would be left with two ill carriers. A more conservative build-up might avoid this.
Perhaps I being too cautious, but I see some warning signs. Let’s hope that Air Italy is far more skillful at navigating labor and political pressure than Alitalia. In the meantime, I am very pleased to see Air Italy’s North American expansion.