..cose da non dire..

Battered Alitalia stays aloft on a wing and discounted fuel

By Guy Dinmore

Published: September 17 2008 03:00 | Last updated: September 17 2008 03:00

While ministers, industrialists and disunited union leaders wrangle over the future of Alitalia, taking brinkmanship to the edge, Italy’s loss-making flag carrier has nonetheless remained aloft and, according to all parties involved, still has a chance of surviving in some form under new ownership.

Industry sources say the government has ensured that Eni, the partly state-owned energy group, has kept the pumps open. There were official declarations at the weekend that Alitalia was having problems getting fuel, after dire warnings of deadlines and bankruptcy a week ago.

One person in the industry said Eni was acting according to its contract, which allowed 15 to 20 per cent of credit for Alitalia. But, depending on the actions of other international fuel suppliers, including Shell, Exxon and Total, the airline could only keep going until Friday.

Five unions that represent Alitalia’s pilots and flight assistants yesterday continued to reject an offer for part of the airline’s assets by a consortium of some 16 Italian investors that would entail about 1,000 job losses for pilots and 1,600 for flight assistants.

Four union federations representing ground staff and maintenance workers have signalled their acceptance of the plan, however. Yesterday the nine unions failed to meet among themselves to hammer out a common position.

CAI, the takeover vehicle created by the investors and led by Roberto Colaninno, head of scooter-maker Piaggio, is due to hold its first shareholders assembly tomorrow evening.

The centre-right government led by Silvio Berlusconi, which owns 49.9 per cent of Alitalia, has made progress in winning over the leading unions by promising generous redundancy packages and finding jobs in other enterprises partly under state control, such as Finmeccanica, an industrial conglomerate.

"Both CAI and the unions are taking a hard stand because they believe failure of a deal will land on Berlusconi, who campaigned on a platform of finding a national solution," said Gregory Alegi, lecturer in aviation management at Luiss Business School in Rome.

The opposing camps, he said, believed that the billionaire prime minister would turn up the heat on Finmeccanica and others to accommodate the "bad Alitalia" left behind by the consortium.

Union leaders understand that if the pilots and flight assistants refuse to come on board by the weekend the deal could go ahead without them. Pilots will be contacted individually with offers of jobs.

Operation Phoenix to rescue Alitalia hinges on merging a radically slimmed-down airline with Air One, its smaller domestic rival owned by Carlo Toto.

Industry sources say Mr Toto, who has joined the CAI investors, secured a better deal for his airline than the offer made for Alitalia. He is to receive some €300m ($424m) in cash and be relieved of €200m of Air One’s total €560m of debt. The offer for the rump Alitalia is about €400m.

The new Alitalia would buy all 57 aircraft currently owned by Air One through several wholly owned leasing companies registered in Dublin. It is also said to have committed itself to sourcing 90 per cent of its future fleet from leasing companies owned by Mr Toto, who has orders of more than 90 planes from Airbus in the pipeline.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2009

— ricapitolando, questa l’avete sentita in italia? troppa vergogna, forse…


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