Qatar Airways yesterday lifted its stake in British Airways owner International Airlines Group and said it may consider further increasing its shareholding.

The Gulf carrier’s shareholding in IAG rose from under 12% last month to 15.01%.

The Oneworld alliance member first took a 9.99% holding in IAG in January last year and is the biggest investor in the UK-based airline group.

The latest move triggered speculation that Qatar Airways will look to gain an increased influence over IAG, which also owns Aer Lingus, Iberia and Vueling. 

Under current EU rules, The Doha-based carrier could increase its stake to as much as 49% but would be limited from obtaining a controlling interest.

The Gulf airline said: “Non-EU shareholders of IAG, including Qatar Airways, are subject to an overall cap on non-EU ownership as a result of the requirement for EU airlines to be majority owned by EU shareholders.

“Qatar Airways may consider increasing its stake further over time within the allowable limits.”

The carrier confirmed it had decided to further deepen its relationship with IAG and “the increased stake recognises the strengthening commercial and strategic ties between the companies‎.

“Qatar Airways believes IAG is very well positioned in Europe on the back notably of its attractive exposure to the transatlantic segment, its leading positions at the London and Madrid hubs and the future benefits from the acquisition ‎of Aer Lingus. Qatar Airways fully supports this ongoing strategy.”

The airline’s chief executive, Akbar Al Baker, said: “We have been very happy with our investment in IAG, from a financial, commercial and strategic perspective.

“The relationship formed has helped to deliver on our westbound strategy.

“Furthermore, IAG’s proven management and strategic direction have been the basis on which we will continue to forge a long-term relationship.”