Alitalia: Another Day, Another Deadline

There’s still no deal, no collapse, nothing certain, but since one more union signed up to the deal offered by the “courageous entrepreneurs” of CAI, Alitalia is still flying, despite having had Thursday as a “deadline”. There are a few more unions still holding out: pilots, flight assistants and a few others. The new deadline is for Friday. At this point, I wouldn’t put much faith in “deadlines” or “rules” or “laws” regarding Alitalia. If they’re uncomfortable, it’s best to simply sweep them aside or otherwise ignore them.

Air France was reported to be interested in buying up a 10-20% stake in the new company (CAI). The position of the foreign airlines that keep sniffing around is clearer: Lufthansa and Air France are being played off one another. Both of them would probably rather that Alitalia fails, and they get to buy up slots, airplanes, workers, and so on, in an open, transparent process. However, if the deal comes together, and there’s no room to rush in and buy up stuff on the cheap, there’s still probably money to be made, and neither airline wants to be the one left out, so neither one really wants to jump in 100%, and keep the thing alive when it would be better off dead, nor back away completely, giving up any chance were the deal to go through.

Something being talked about a lot these days is the “national pride” of having an Italian airline owned by Italians. This sort of attitude might have flown in the 1930ies, when airplanes were a big deal, but in 2008, in case no one had let the “national pride” crowd know, having some airplanes with an Italian flag on them is no longer really anything to brag about. Here is a list of “flag carriers” from wikipedia: Kyrgyzstan, Mozambique, and even failing Zimbabwe have national airlines. Who cares? Italy has plenty to be proud of, where it’s either unique in the world (its history, its art), or for genuine accomplishments on the cutting edge. Ferrari immediately comes to mind, as do authors, artists, actors, scientists… people who accomplish novel and innovative things. Food, something everyone is proud of in Italy is something that’s been exported worldwide. Italy acquitted itself well at the recent Olympics, in terms of sports. All things to be proud of, and perhaps even spend some government money to accomplish. But in terms of airplanes, the important thing is for people to be able to fly to, from, and within the Italian peninsula and islands, not that the guy getting rich from the operation happens to have been born in the same country.

On Friday, we ought to know the results of the negotiations between the pilots and CAI. Were that to work out, the deal will probably go through, and Berlusconi’s smiling mug will be all over the TV networks (many of which he either owns or controls) explaining how he valiantly saved Alitalia. What people in Italy won’t hear on his TV networks is how much of their money he threw away to accomplish this. And nothing will have changed. The deal will be neither the first, nor the last to see everything stitched up so that the entrepreneurs get richer without risking much, those in cushy jobs keep them, the Italian taxpayer’s money goes down the drain, the rule of law is ignored, and what should fade away to be replaced by something stronger, cheaper, faster and better never does.

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