Turkish Airlines has confirmed interest in its Croatian counterpart following several weeks of speculation. The airline’s Chief Human Resources Officer, Abuldkerim Cay, says his company sees an equity investment in Croatia Airlines as a good business opportunity, adding that a potential deal would benefit both sides. It comes just days after the government removed Croatia Airlines from a list of companies of strategic importance, with the aim of making it eligible for a possible sale. Turkey’s Ambassador to Croatia, Ahmet Tuta, echoed Mr Cay’s words over the weekend. “Both companies cooperate as Star Alliance members. There is interest and the Croatian government has just announced a number of companies which are to be listed for sale. However, it is important to know all the conditions”, Mr Tuta said. Since Turkey is not a member of the European Union, it could potentially acquire up to 49% in its Croatian counterpart.
Several weeks ago Croatia Airlines’ CEO, Krešimir Kučko, rebuffed claims that Turkey’s national carrier was eying a stake in the company, adding that a strategic partner through recapitalisation would accelerate the carrier's development and fleet expansion. “Our good business results make us more appealing now then we were before, so I hope we will have more success in finding a strategic partner", Mr Kučko said. Tonči Peović, who has managed both Zagreb and Dubrovnik airports and is seen as a possible replacement for Mr Kučko notes, “If the government sells Croatia Airlines without recapitalisation requirements, then the most likely buyer would be Alitalia, owned by Etihad. This would give Air Serbia, through its part-owner, access to Croatia Airlines’ valuable airport slots and a leading position in the Balkans”. Mr Peović, who is currently the General Manager of Brač Airport, adds, "The only guarantee for survival is a strategic recapitalisation through a process of programmed bankruptcy, by a non-European company, which competes against both Etihad and Lufthansa and has a strategy to develop the EU market through a hub-and-spoke network. Otherwise, the takeover will be hostile, which has been the case with a number of companies in Croatia".
Turkish Airlines has been linked to a possible equity investment in Croatia Airlines on several occasions, most recently last year. The carrier's CEO, Temel Kotil, previously noted that the company is looking at acquiring other airlines in either 2016 or 2017. Earlier this month, Turkish launched flights from Istanbul to Dubrovnik and expanded its codeshare partnership with Croatia Airlines. The carrier has also expressed interest in seeking out models with the government of Bosnia and Herzegovina over the establishment of a new national carrier in the country. Croatia Airlines' privatisation process has been ongoing for almost three years.