Italian politics undermines Alitalia sales efforts

Much more time will likely be needed for the airline to clear its future | Gabriel Bouys/AFP via Getty Images

ROME — Italy’s post-election political turmoil is hampering the sale of Alitalia, the country’s bankrupt flag carrier only being kept aloft thanks to emergency government loans.

Alitalia has been under special administration since last year, and state-appointed commissioners running the airline have set an April 30 deadline to choose the best bidder and complete the sale. Tuesday marked an informal deadline for binding bids to be filed.

But possible buyers are balking thanks to the political impasse that followed last month’s inconclusive election. The country’s two leading parties have both expressed reservations about selling the carrier to a foreign bidder.

That makes it likely that much more time will be needed for the airline to clear its future, as possible investors await the creation of a new government before advancing binding bids.

A spokeswoman at the industry ministry confirmed that “a slowdown [in the sale process] is due to the fact that the possible buyers are waiting for a clearer political situation before deciding.”

“We will take all necessary steps to be prepared … But today’s Alitalia is not of interest to us” — Lufthansa spokeswoman Neda Jaafari

Germany’s Lufthansa, British low-cost carrier easyJet and U.S. private equity fund Cerberus are among the companies that previously expressed interest in Alitalia, under administration since its staff rejected a rescue plan that would have cut jobs and salaries.

For now, the ball is in the court of the caretaker government headed by outgoing Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, who has the final word on which solution to adopt for Alitalia and will remain at the helm until a new government is formed.

Possible buyers have “slowed down due to the political situation in the country, but there are still spaces [for the deal to happen],” outgoing Industry Minister Carlo Calenda wrote in a recent tweet defending the prospects for the airline’s sale.

Lufthansa made clear on Tuesday it’s not interested in the Italian carrier in its current shape. The German flag carrier is already the third largest airline in Italy.

“The matter is too politically sensitive to be dealt by an interim government” — Wolfango Piccoli, head of Teneo Intelligence

“We have submitted a document outlining our ideas for a restructured ‘New Alitalia.’ We can imagine further discussions based on that,” spokeswoman Neda Jaafari said. “We will take all necessary steps to be prepared, should an appropriate opportunity arise. But today’s Alitalia is not…

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