International Airlines Group (IAG) CEO Willie Walsh believes there is a real likelihood that the Qatar Airways’ CEO will follow up on his public statements and take the Doha-based carrier out of the oneworld global alliance.

Qatar Airways Group CEO Akbar Al Baker has said the carrier could exit from oneworld in 2019.

Qatar joined oneworld in 2013, based on a joint invitation from American Airlines and IAG carrier British Airways (BA), which was the sponsor.

During an October media briefing in New York, Al Baker said American has been “talking against Qatar Airways.” American was a founding oneworld member along with BA, Cathay Pacific Airways and Qantas, in 1999.

But friction arose between the American and Qatar CEOs over the alleged subsidy campaign that American, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines ran against Qatar, Emirates and Etihad Airways. This was exacerbated when Qatar Airways revealed in June 2017 that it was looking to take a 10% stake in American. That move was strongly and publicly rebuffed by American CEO Doug Parker and the bid was dropped soon after.

In November 2017, Qatar Airways took a 10% stake in Cathay. It already had s a 20% stake in BA parent International Airlines Group (IAG), parent of British Airways, a 10% stake in Santiago-based LATAM Airlines Group, and a 49% investment in Italy’s Meridiana.

On Nov. 2, during IAG’s capital markets day, Walsh, who has a good working relationship with Al Baker, said of the oneworld situation, “I think it’s highly likely that Qatar will leave the oneworld alliance. I have had regular contact Akbar Al Baker on this issue. He doesn’t say these things without being genuinely behind the comments. He is annoyed at the way some oneworld members have responded, as alliance partners. I think this is a genuine threat,” he said.

ATW understands that oneworld member airlines must give a year’s notice of leaving the global alliance and pay an exit fee.

Walsh added that Al Baker has assured him that any changes in oneworld membership would not impact the relationship between IAG and Qatar Airways. Under this relationship, IAG has sourced aircraft from the Qatar Airways fleet.

Walsh said the two companies would continue to explore new ways of working together, regardless of whether they were alliance partners or whether Qatar Airways continues to hold a stake in IAG.

Qatar Airways has been through a challenging 12 months, following a diplomatic dispute involving its home country with four of its Middle East neighbors—Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates—which started in June 2017. This led to a blockade with the Qatari flag carrier being barred from entering those nations’ airspace, affecting its network and sales, and impacting financial results.

In September, Qatar Airways posted a net loss of QR251.6 million ($69.1 million) for its financial year, describing it as “the most challenging year” in its 20-year history.

Victoria Moores