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Alitalia chief tells union new plan could be 'last chance'

Italian airline said to be close to pact with UAE carrier

22 January, 13:05
Alitalia chief tells union new plan could be 'last chance' (ANSA) - Rome, January 22 - Alitalia is facing its "last chance" to create a new business plan to keep the troubled carrier aloft, Chief Executive Officer Gabriele Del Torchio told unions Wednesday.

"The negotiations will be long but I think that common sense will prevail," said Del Torchio as the company began talks with their unions over Alitalia's business plans, including a possible partnership with Dubai-based Etihad Airways.

"This is really the last chance for Alitalia".

Negotiations between Alitalia and Etihad have been complex, "but completion is not far (off)", Italy's Ambassador to Abu Dhabi, Giorgio Starace, said earlier in the week.

Key issues in talks between Alitalia and Etihad include conditions on the re-negotiation of debt posed by the United Arab Emirates carrier, which has confirmed its interest in investing in Alitalia but has not yet formalized an offer. Last week, Del Torchio said Alitalia may need to raise even more capital than the 300-million-euro capital increase that it just completed.

"We have bolstered our balance sheet but now we need to strengthen our financial profile," he said during meetings with shareholders. At that time, he said that the Italian carrier "is not in a rush" to close a deal with Etihad, which could bring more equity, but in the meantime, "nothing changes" in terms of its partnership with Air France-KLM.

Etihad in December confirmed it was in talks to buy a 49% stake in Italy's cash-strapped national carrier.

The Italian carrier received a 75-million-euro capital injection from State-owned post office Poste Italiane in December as part of a government-engineered 500-million-euro rescue package.

However, Air France refused to participate and has seen its stake in Alitalia decline to about 7.1% from a previous high of 25%, the Italian carrier has said.

After buying 29% of Air Berlin, Germany's second-largest airline, in 2011, Etihad has taken stakes in carriers across the world, including Air Serbia, Aer Lingus, Darwin Airlines, Virgin Australia, Jet Airways and Air Seychelles.