Low-cost airline keen to buy parts of loss-making national carrier

EasyJet has rekindled its interest in buying parts of Alitalia as the Italian government attempts to find a solution for its lossmaking national carrier.

EasyJet said it had submitted a revised expression of interest for a restructured Alitalia with a proposal that was consistent with its “existing strategy for Italy”. Any private bid for Alitalia’s assets will be a test of the current populist Italian government’s ability to attract foreign investment, at a time when its economic policy has prompted a stand-off with Brussels. Alitalia was placed into special administration last year, the latest in a string of restructurings for the struggling airline over the past decade, but its sale was delayed following the change of government in Rome.

Johan Lundgren, easyJet’s chief executive, said during the summer that the company was interested in buying parts of Alitalia’s operations. Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star party in Italy’s populist coalition, has suggested that state-controlled companies would come to the rescue of Alitalia, which must pay back a bridging loan of €1bn to the Italian government in December. Mr Di Maio has said several private companies have expressed interest in buying the airline. Italy’s state-controlled railways Ferrovie dello Stato on Monday said that it would make an offer to buy assets of the airline. It is possible that Ferrovie dello Stato will seek to work with a foreign airline in its offer, with the Italian government saying it wishes for a 51 per cent of Alitalia to be held by the Italian state or a state-owned company.

Lufthansa, the German carrier, has ruled itself out of bidding, with its chief executive Carsten Spohr telling analysts this week “we will not be co-investor with the government in an airline that is being restructured”. Air France-KLM looked at Alitalia last year but is not expected to renew its interest. Other Italian companies that the Italian government holds shares in, including Eni and Leonardo, are not expected to be involved in any bidding. In 2014 Etihad, the UAE-based carrier, bought a 49 per cent stake the Italian airline only to see it collapse again into administration in May 2017 after employees rejected a deal on salary and benefits proposed by the company.

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