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Alitalia rises from bankruptcy

ALITALIA, whose 62 years as a state-run company ended in bankruptcy, began its new incarnation yesterday as a private company with Air France-KLM a minority shareholder alongside a varied group of Italian investors.

The Franco-Dutch carrier, which withdrew a failed bid last year to buy the Italian airline outright, will pay 322 million euro (US$431.29 million) in cash and equity for a 25-percent share in the new company, Alitalia's new CEO Rocco Sabelli said after investors approved the deal at a board meeting.

Sabelli said Air France had a clear advantage in the bidding process because of its long-standing partnership in the Sky Team alliance and its earlier bid.

"The interest in the Italian market by the other bidders, including Lufthansa, did not translate into a real offer," Sabelli said.

The group of some 25 Italian investors - including the chiefs of scooter maker Piaggio, the Pirelli tire company and a highway construction company - bought the bankrupt airline from the Italian government in a 1.052-billion-euro deal. That includes 625 million euro in Alitalia's debt, which in the meantime has ballooned to at least 3.2 billion euro.

Roberto Colaninno, president of the investor group, said the Air France partnership will bring synergies of 720 million euro over the first three years. However, rules will prevent Air France from expanding its participation for the first four years. The deal requires regulatory approval.

Economic challenges

"If Air France dreams of buying all of Alitalia, it is their dream. We have a different dream," Colaninno said.

In a statement, Air France-KLM said the partnership was an "important milestone" in securing its future as the industry faces tough economic challenges. The new Alitalia - which merges the old Alitalia's profitable assets with the much smaller Air One - launched yesterday with an early morning flight from London's Heathrow to Rome.

The new company is slimmer than its predecessor, with 148 aircraft from both airlines combined, compared with 173 in the old fleet, and about 12,500 employees, down from more than 23,500 between the two airlines.

The new Alitalia's logo remains the same, as do the green flight crew uniforms. The fleet will be newer after the incoming owners declined to take on older planes, and will serve 70 destinations, with just 13 of those being intercontinental locations.


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