Struggling Alitalia wins lifeline

11th October 2013, Comments 0 comments

Shareholders in troubled airline Alitalia unanimously approved a last-minute capital increase on Friday, allowing Italy's flag carrier to stave-off bankruptcy and continue flying.

"The vote was unanimous," board member Maurizio Traglio told Italian media afterwards, indicating that Air France-KLM, Alitalia's biggest shareholder, had approved the proposal.

Earlier Friday, Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi characterised the capital increase of 300 million euros ($406 million) as critical to the survival of the airline, which employs 14,000 people.

The national postal service was brought in at the last minute on Thursday and Italian media said it may have stumped up 75 million euros in the planned 300-million-euro capital increase.

Poste Italiane's investment would give it a stake of between 10 and 15 percent in the troubled airline, Italian news agency ANSA reported.

The Poste Italiane's investment is "an enormous step forward", said Vito Riggio, the head of Italy's Civil Aviation Authority before the deal announcement.

The day before he had warned the airline risked having its licence revoked if an immediate solution to its financial problems was not found.

"The government has accomplished a very important thing, to find a solution at an extremely difficult moment for air travel," he added.

Air France-KLM's chief Alexandre de Juniac said last week that the group, which is still losing money and going through a painful restructuring of its own, was willing to help out Alitalia only under strict conditions.

Air France-KLM tried to buy Alitalia in the past but a proposed deal in 2008 was blocked by the government and would still prove hugely controversial in Italy, where recent takeovers by foreign companies have been criticised.

When announcing Poste Italiane's investment into Alitalia the government said there would have to be "a major overhaul of the industrial plan".

However, the government has previously stymied attempts by Air France-KLM to take over Alitalia, which needs deep restructuring that would put jobs on the line.

Alitalia reported net losses of 294 million euros in the first half of this year, compared to a 201-million-euro loss over the same period in 2012.

The company has also said it managed to reduce its overall debt to 946 million euros by June 30 of this year from 1.023 billion euros in March.

The outspoken head of Ryanair, Michael O'Leary, told Italy's Corriere della Sera newspaper on Friday that his budget airline was ready to step in to replace Alitalia on its domestic routes if the carrier went bankrupt.

He said Alitalia had been ruined by politics and unions.

© 2013 AFP

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