Delta, EasyJet Are in Advanced Talks for Alitalia Revamp

(Bloomberg) -- Italy’s government wants to continue to play a major role at troubled carrier Alitalia SpA, after Delta Air Lines Inc. and U.K. discounter EasyJet Plc said they’re interested in joining a rescue plan for the company.

After the two airlines confirmed Wednesday that they could potentially team up to run Alitalia along with state railway Ferrovie dello Stato, Economic Development Minister Luigi Di Maio said the Treasury could end up owning a stake larger than 15 percent, Ansa news agency reported, citing union sources.

State-owned Ferrovie will take the lead in the latest bid to revamp the carrier, almost two years after the airline was placed in administration for the second time in a decade.

Di Maio, whose Five Star Movement has campaigned to save jobs at distressed companies around the country, sees "great potential" for Alitalia, Ansa reported. Di Maio, who effectively runs the government along with fellow Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini, said the state’s involvement will safeguard employment at the carrier.

Ferrovie said Wednesday that discussions among the potential partners will focus on “defining the main aspects of the new Alitalia plan.” EasyJet has confirmed talks on “forming a consortium to explore options” for the Italian carrier’s future.

Clock Ticking

The clock is ticking for Alitalia as it burns through a 900 million-euro ($1 billion) state loan. The airline halved its loss before certain items to 154 million euros last year, according to union Uil Trasporti. Now, it’s seeking international partners to stay afloat in a market where fares are under pressure and industry consolidation has left the Italian airline dwarfed by rivals.

The government stands ready to participate in establishing a “new Alitalia,” provided that the new business plan is sustainable and meets European norms, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s office said in a statement. Di Maio is scheduled to meet Alitalia’s unions on Thursday in Rome.

EasyJet cautioned that there is no certainty the talks will lead to a transaction. The Luton, England-based company, Europe’s No. 2 discount carrier, at one point went head-to-head with Alitalia in the lucrative market for flights between Rome and Milan, before retreating.

Consortium Approach

Delta said late Wednesday that it submitted a non-binding letter of interest to Ferrovie concerning “a consortium approach in a future Alitalia together with EasyJet.” Neither airline disclosed details on their possible roles in resuscitating the Italian airline.

The two foreign carriers are weighing a joint purchase of as much as 40 percent of Alitalia, according to people familiar with the matter.

Delta, based in Atlanta, has used international partnerships and equity investments to expand its footprint without relying solely on its own fleet and resources. The company’s holdings include 49 percent of Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., 49 percent of Grupo Aeromexico SAB and 3.6 percent of China Eastern Airlines Corp.

State-appointed administrators have been running Alitalia since 2017, after former shareholder Etihad Airways pulled the plug on funding and workers rejected a 2 billion-euro recapitalization plan tied to 1,600 job cuts from a workforce of 12,500.

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