Alitalia – Off to a Rocky Start

For those wondering what has become of the "new Alitalia", it can best be described as hurtling down the runway, but not gaining a lot of altitude.  The "sale" has been closed, although there is still a lot of union activity going on that’s quite disruptive – apparently a number of people missed their Christmas flights, which can’t have put them in a good mood about using Alitalia’s services in the future.

The other big, open issues facing Alitalia are 1) finding a foreign partner, and 2) figuring out what to do about the Malpensa airport, in Lombardy, near Milan.

Apparently, a deal is all but signed with Air France, which the French have been crowing about:

«Air France-Alitalia? Merci Silvio»

With good reason too.  As the article points out, with Prodi’s plan, they would have had to shell out 1.2 billion euros, and assume the debts of the entire company.  With the current plan, they get a quarter of the company for 300 million Euro, and no mountain of debts, which Berlusconi conveniently passed off to the Italian taxpayer.  Also, as part of the deal, Italian routes have been consolidated, because AirOne, the other carrier with a lot of Italian routes is being folded into the new Alitalia.  The deal received a "get out of jail free" card from the antitrust authority as a further sweetener from Berlusconi. Air France probably get even more of the company as the group that got gang-pressed into buying up Alitalia heads for the doors at an opportune time, which makes something of a mockery of Berlusconi’s insistence that Alitalia stay "Italian".

The other big wrinkle in the proceedings is the Malpensa airport, which was a fairly important hub for Alitalia, that served Milan and northern Italy in terms of long haul international flights.  The Lega Nord, or "Northern League", part of the governing coalition, wants, at all costs, to keep Malpensa operative and important, and as is pretty much par for the course for a government of any stripe in Italy, don’t seem to believe much in the idea of a free market for the available slots, where companies will step in to service the large number of business customers that are in the area.

With the government putting its full weight, and a large dollop of public money, behind the new Alitalia, it will likely manage to struggle aloft, but for the time being, I still would avoid flying on it, as the strikes don’t look to come to a quick end.  Eventually, it will probably be folded into Air France, who, I might add, are a bunch of theiving bastards, having stolen/"lost" my baggage seven years ago, with only a pittance in compensation.  Before things go further big changes, though, they’ll probably settle down to some semblance of normal for a while, so it’s unlikely there will be much to talk about in the near future.  I’ll be sure to write if things heat up, though.

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