Alitalia, Aiming to Buy Air Malta, Losing €500,000 a Day

Photo: Fabrizio Berni

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Alitalia, the troubled Italian airline which is buying a 49% stake in Air Malta, is losing €500,000 a day, its president has said.

Several sections of the Italian media quoted Luca Cordero di Montezemolo as saying that the ailing airline, in which Etihad Airways owns a 49% stake, is “seeing the light at the end of the tunnel” and aims to reach a break-even point by next year.

Mr Montezemolo told the Chamber of Representatives’ transport committee that Alitalia would try to reach its targets “without spending a single euro of taxpayer money.”

He caused a stir last month, at least locally, when he said that Air Malta would be a “zero risk operation that would not cost a euro.”

His comments sent many in the tourism sector reeling and Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis said the deal would be called off if it is not advantageous to the Maltese airline, which has been in restructuring since 2012.

“Alitalia is focused on the costs and revenue but, above all, it needs investment,” said CEO Cramer Ball.

The company plans to invest some €400 million this year, he said.

The strategy is to expand long haul operations, he said, pointing out that the airline will start flying out of Beijing, China, in two weeks’ time.

Mr Montezemolo was also asked about this week’s strike action by Alitalia. More than 140 flights were cancelled as airline staff protested over the ending of certain employee benefits.

The Alitalia president said he was surprised because he did not feel responsible. “We must be careful not to play with fire,” he warned. “Two years ago the company was on the brink of bankruptcy.’

He went on to say that the shareholders had made great sacrifices and that such actions should be avoided.

“I hope that a sense of responsibility prevails. Yesterday’s strike hurt us. No other airlines have these conditions and we cannot keep them because we continue to lose money.”

Cramer Ball pointed out that the company directly employs some 75,000. It also employs many others indirectly. Alitalia also generates some €5 billion in the Italian economy.

Alitalia needs Italy as much as Italy needs of Alitalia,” Montezemolo said.