MILAN, April 27 (Reuters) – A new Italian airline hopes to replace Alitalia from July 1, the chief executive of the state-owned airline said on Tuesday, although some European Commission hurdles still need to be overcome.
Rome last year embarked on plans to restructure Alitalia and launch the ITA, which was supposed to replace cash-strapped airlines, hit by years of losses, in early April.
This was put off by lengthy negotiations with Brussels that risk ruining the project unless ITA seizes the last window of opportunity in the summer, said CEO Fabio Lazzerini.
“We need to start quickly as the market (traffic) is increasing and … rivals Alitalia are acting aggressively, especially low-cost airlines,” Lazzerini said, citing Ryanair’s plans to offer 100 routes in Italy over the summer.
“We aim to start flying on July 1 with a small number of planes which will gradually increase over time,” he said during an audience with four Italian parliamentary committees.
While the ITA is in talks with the European Union Competition watchdog about its plans, it is also in talks with Air France-KLM, Delta and Virgin on the one hand and Lufthansa on the other about a possible partnership, he added.
A decision on partners is expected by the end of June, Lazzerini said, adding that discussions with the Commission are ongoing and the main concern is whether the new airline can purchase the Alitalia brand, its loyalty program and the majority of Milan’s Linate airport slots.
The ITA is also trying to convince Brussels that it needs the handling and maintenance business of the former airline.
Under EU state aid rules, there needs to be economic discontinuity between the ITA and Alitalia for Brussels to allow Rome to inject 3 billion euros ($ 3.6 billion) into new airlines.
Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, Alitalia owned nearly 70% of Linate’s slots and the ITA rejected EU requests to give up half of it.
This position was driven by a desire to keep them out of the hands of competitors and also use them to propel rival airlines into industry partnerships. ($ 1 = 0.8280 euros) (Reported by Francesca Landini; Edited by Alexander Smith)