Newly rebranded Air Italy will not attempt to copy Qatar Airways’ style, despite the Arab carrier having taken a 49% stake in the company, the Italian carrier’s chief customer experience (CCE) officer said July 18.

Qatar Airways is well-known for the strength of its brand and with the level of engagement in the airline’s smallest details by Qatar CEO Akbar Al Baker.

Speaking at the Farnborough Air Show, CCE officer Rossen Dimitrov said there would, however, be a major investment in crew training to improve passengers’ journeys with the airline, which changed its name from Meridiana in March.

The airline has adopted elements in its new livery that echo Qatar Airways’ color scheme, notably its distinctive maroon shade for its paint scheme and furnishings.

Dimitrov has extensive experience with Qatar Airways employee and regards Al Baker as his mentor, but stressed he is now a full-time Air Italy employee.

“Qatar Airways is a brand we can learn from, but in no way does Qatar Airways dictate our service or product. Akbar Al Baker would like any of the companies in which he has an interest to have the best brand. He’s always said Air Italy will be the best brand in Italy and wants the Italian people to have pride in having it as a brand. The same for our employees.”

Air Italy is showing its second new Boeing 737 MAX 8 at the show. Eventually, it will have 20 on lease from Qatar Airways, together with 30 787-8s, which will also come via the Doha-based carrier’s order book with Boeing.

Before the 787s start arriving, five of Qatar Airways’ Airbus A330-200s will act as a “bridge” as the Italian airline phases out its current long-haul fleet of three Boeing 767-300ERs. The current short-haul element of the fleet is composed of eight 737-800s, which will be replaced as the MAX 8s arrive.

Dimitrov said the remaining Meridiana aircraft would continue to serve in their old colors until their replacement—“There are some aircraft exiting the fleet that it doesn’t make sense to re-paint”—but that there had been little confusion among customers over the dual identities. Most people in Italy were aware the airline had been renamed as Air Italy, he said.

Whereas Sardinia-based Meridiana was known primarily as a budget-orientated leisure carrier, Air Italy will have a more upmarket feel, with a higher-quality infight product, Dimitrov said.

“We sent some of our trainers to observe Qatar Airways’ training, but we’re designing it to fit with our experience and are undertaking our training in Italy.”

All cabin crew have so far received a basic training course to give them a grounding in the rebranded airline’s ethos. Despite only receiving the basics, “They are delivering outstanding service. I am really impressed with what the cabin crew have done.” The next step will be longer, more intensive sessions: “We will start investing heavily in training our cabin crew.”

The 737 MAX 8 on display at Farnborough has slimline seating by Zodiac. A small business-class section has 32-in. pitch, while the same seats in economy have 29-in. pitch.

The business-class seats follow the “European business” pattern of leaving the center seat of three blocked off, to provide more personal space for premium passengers. The business-class section at Farnborough was laid out with napery, but the hors d’oeuvres on show were representative of Air Italy’s forthcoming long-haul service, rather than for short-haul flights.

Asked whether Air Italy had made any progress on following Al Baker’s suggestion that it should apply for membership of the Oneworld alliance, Dimitrov said: “Stand by.”

Inset: Air Italy’s 737 MAX 8’s business class seats are identical to those in economy, but with the center seat blocked off to provide more personal space. Credit: Alan Dron

Alan Dron