Qatar Airways investment in Air Italy, the Italian carrier formerly known as Meridiana will “grow the company”, says chief executive Akbar Al Baker, in contrast to Gulf rival Etihad’s investment in Alitalia.

Al Baker said: “We don’t just put cash on the table and let the status quo continue. We negotiate with the unions, we negotiate with the staff. We put conditions in place.

“We have people on the board and we have an understanding with the management and unions to grow the company and to connect Italy to the world.”

Meridiana rebranded as Air Italy in February, after Qatar Airways acquired a 49% stake in Meridiana holding company last September. Alisarda retained a 51% stake and rebranded as AQA Holding.

Eight new aircraft are due to join Air Italy this year, including five Qatar Airways’ Airbus A330s, with the fleet due to expand from the current 11 aircraft to 50 by 2022.

Along with the rebrand in February, the carrier announced the launch of flights between Milan Malpensa and Bangkok from September, on top of the launch this May of Milan services to New York and Miami.

Air Italy promised three additional long-haul routes by the end of the year as it looks to expand at the expense of Alitalia, which went into administration in May last year after major shareholder Etihad withdrew support.

Alitalia remains in administration pending the formation of a new Italian government following the general election on March 4, although the carrier continues to operate normally.

Speaking at German travel trade show ITB in Berlin, Al Baker said: “We don’t know how Air Italy will evolve. We maybe need to order more planes to lease to them.”

Qatar Airways runs its own leasing company, and Al Baker said: “We will grow our leasing. As we replace aircraft, because we want a young fleet, we will lease the aircraft we replace.”