© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Alitalia planes are seen on the runway at Fiumicino International Airport as talks between Italy and the European Commission on the renewal of Alitalia enter a key phase, in Rome, Italy, on April 15, 2021. REUTERS / Remo Casilli
By Francesca Landini
MILAN (Reuters) – Alitalia, a former symbol of Italian style and glamor beaten by economic mismanagement, will operate its last flight on Thursday after 75 years, before handing it over to its downsized successor, Italia Trasporto Aereo (ITA).
The traditional choice of popes, prima donnas and Italy’s political elite, Alitalia has been run by state-appointed administrators since 2017 to avoid being liquidated.
An overnight flight from the Sardinian capital, Cagliari, landing in Rome around 2100 GMT will mark the final greeting from the airline founded in 1946, after a dizzying succession of restructurings and ownership changes.
The company has ended just a year in the black this century and the government has come to its rescue many times, spending more than 8 billion euros ($ 9.27 billion) in the last three years alone.
As has often been the case during his lifetime, Alitalia’s last rites were surrounded by political disputes, and the far-right opposition party Brothers of Italy blamed the government of Prime Minister Mario Draghi for his disappearance.
“Today we are losing another jewel, a company that has shaped the history of our nation and … we are proud to be Italian,” said party leader Giorgia Meloni.
After seeking to sell Alitalia to private investors, in 2020 Rome surrendered to the disastrous consequences of the pandemic for the airline sector and decided to create ITA from its ashes.
The new airline, in which the government will invest 1.35 billion euros over three years, will start with 52 jets and 2,800 employees, compared to about 110 aircraft and a workforce of 10,000 from Alitalia.
According to an agreement negotiated with the European Commission, there must be a clear discontinuity between Alitalia and its successor, and the new airline must be profitable at the end of its 2021-2025 business plan.
However, Alitalia’s legacy of high costs, mismanagement and strong union and political influence can be hard for ITA to ignore.
The new airline is in talks to buy the Alitalia brand and is expected to maintain the traditional green-white-red livery.
The launch of a more agile airline leaves a question mark about the future of more than 7,000 Alitalia workers who will be subjected to a temporary layoff plan paid by the government until at least September 2022.
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