The Strategist

Alitalia’s headlong plunge

04/27/2017 - 12:47

Italian airline Alitalia is in the red, and it looks like the carrier does not have a chance to be rehabilitated. The company’s employees refused to support a rescue plan coordinated by the leadership and the trade unions. Now the national Italian air carrier can be sold in parts if the management fails to find a single buyer is not found for all the company's assets.

Bene Riobó
Bene Riobó
Alitalia acknowledged that it had exhausted all rescue options, after ground staff and flight personnel had rejected the plan to rescue the carrier from the crisis. In addition to recapitalization of € 2 billion, the plan itself implied reduction of salaries and dismissal of 1,6 thousand workers (12,500 people employed in total). Etihad Airways, which owns 49% of Alitalia since 2014, said that the refusal of employees means that "all games are lost".

"The agreement reached with the unions was a result of work of their leaders, the company's management, and the Italian government, and was meant to ensure Alitalia’s future. Rejecting it on the ballot is very disappointing, and we are forced to hold a shareholders’ meeting on April 27 to start preparing for the statutorily required procedures", said James Hogan, president of Etihad Airways to Bloomberg.

The largest bank of Italy, UniCredit, reported last week that it lost nearly € 500 million on the air carrier.

The airline’s chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo has already notified the local air authorities that the company has launched the process of searching for an administrator of the bankruptcy procedure. This is the first step to reorganize company, which makes it impossible to rescue the carrier in the near future, writes Bloomberg.

The Italian government has already ruled out a possibility of nationalizing the carrier, stressing that the Monday voting was the last chance for survival.

"Most likely, the administration procedure will take six months, as a result of which it will be desided whether to partially or completely sell Alitalia's assets, or to liquidate it", said Minister of Economic Development Carlo Calenda in an interview with the Italian television channel TG3. 

"There are too many airlines in Europe, and the sooner we lose airlines like Alitalia, the better it will be for us", Andrew Charlton, an analyst of the aviation industry from Switzerland, told The Financial Times. 

Alitalia encountered the first serious problems back in 2008 - then the company also announced bankruptcy. To solve the carrier’s financial difficulties, the Italian authorities agreed on sale of French airline Air France. However, Silvio Berlusconi, then Prime Minister of Italy, personally discouraged this deal. After Berlusconi came to power, the airline was allocated a loan of € 300 million, and then it was sold to a consortium of CAI, and its assets were merged with another Italian carrier - Air One.

However, even this did not solve the air carrier’s problem. In 2014, the Emirates airline Etihad Airways bought 49% of Alitalia and announced plans to recapitalize the Italian carrier for a total of € 1.158 billion. If anything, even financial injections did not bring desired results, and Alitalia continued to generate losses. In 2015, they amounted to almost € 200 million.

At the same time, the company lost market share to the low-cost players. In 2015, the company’s share in Italy fell to 18, compared with 23% in 2007. Now the first place on the local market is held by the largest European low-cost airline Ryanair (23% against 12% a decade earlier), while EasyJet’s share in Italy grew to 12%.

The total number of Alitalia passengers fell to 22 million in 2015 compared to 30 million in 2005.

At the same time, competitors increased traffic volumes. Among them are German Lufthansa (+55 million for the period), British Airways (+25 million), Air France-KLM (+20 million). In addition, the Italian company significantly cut the number of destinations, leaving about 15 basic routes.

As reported by the Italian La Stampa, Etihad may try to sell a share to the German Lufthansa. Last year, the latter agreed to buy 38 aircraft from Air Berlin, which is also partly owned by the Middle Eastern company. In turn, Air Berlin has generated a record loss in the last two years. In February, Etihad and Lufthansa announced signing of an agreement on cooperation.