Italia Trasporto Aereo will start with 52 planes and 2,800 employees, and planes will soon start sporting Azzuri blue markings

Italy officially retired state-owned airline Alitalia on Friday, replacing it with a new state-owned carrier called Italia Trasporto Aereo, or ITA, permanently grounding the 75-year old airline that was once a symbol of Italian style and glamour. After years of financial losses and failed rescue attempts, Alitalia had been run by government-appointed administrators since 2017.

An early morning flight from Milan landed in the southern city of Bari to mark the debut of the new, downsized carrier. ITA will be repainting its fleet and leasing new planes, all in the colors of Italy’s European Cup winning national soccer team, known colloquially as gli Azzurri, or the Blues, who play in electric blue shirts.

“Having a national airline is an obligation for a country with a tourist vocation like ours,” said ITA chairman Alfredo Altavilla. 

The traditional choice of popes, prima donnas and Italy’s political elite, Alitalia has been run by state-appointed administrators since 2017 to avoid being liquidated. The Italian government has spent more than 8 billion euros ($9.27 billion) to keep the airline afloat in just the last three years, according to Reuters.

As has often been the case during its lifetime, Alitalia’s last rites were surrounded by political dispute, with the far-right opposition party Brothers of Italy blaming Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government for its demise. “Today we are losing another jewel, a company that has forged the history of our nation and … made us proud to be Italian,” said the party leader Giorgia Meloni.

The new carrier, in which the government will invest 1.35 billion euros over three years, will start with 52 jets and 2,800 employees, compared with around 110 aircraft and a workforce of 10,000 for Alitalia.

Under a deal negotiated with the European Commission, there must be clear discontinuity between Alitalia and its successor, and the new carrier needs to be profitable by the end of its 2021-2025 business plan.

Analysts say Alitalia’s legacy of high costs, mismanagement and heavy political and trade union influence may be hard for ITA to shrug off, and the launch of the smaller carrier leaves unresolved the future of more than 7,000 Alitalia workers who will be paid by the government under a furlough plan through the end of 2022.

Altavilla said the new carrier aims to join an airline alliance next year. Alitalia, which operated its last flight on Thursday, was part of the SkyTeam alliance with Air France/KLM   and Delta. ITA will have to negotiate a pact from scratch and could choose to team up with other airlines, including Lufthansa and its Star Alliance partners.

“I am open to negotiate with everyone,” Altavilla said, “ITA has been created to be a strategic element in one of the large networks that already exist in the sector.” Altavilla said ITA would preserve its hubs at Rome Fiumicino and Milan Linate airports.

(With LaPresse and Reuters)

© Copyright LaPresse