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Alitalia workers protest as airline risks bankruptcy

Around 1,000 Alitalia workers took to Rome’s streets Wednesday to demand more state help for the beleaguered Italian airline and reject European Union calls for its severe downsizing.

Around 1,000 Alitalia workers took to Rome’s streets Wednesday to demand more state help for the beleaguered Italian airline and reject European Union calls for its severe downsizing.

Assembling outside the Ministry for Economic Development, they held placards saying “Don’t touch Alitalia”, and showed a mock coffin with the EU flag and the tail of an Alitalia plane sticking out of it.

The Italian government has hit a stalemate in its negotiations with the European Commission over a three-billion-euro ($3.6-billion) bailout of its former flag carrier.

The commission, which polices state aid in the EU, needs to authorise the plan, which would result in the creation of a new debt-free company that would take over part of Alitalia’s assets.

Brussels has set tough conditions for its go-ahead, including the partial sale of Alitalia slots at Milan’s Linate airport and the adoption of a new logo to mark a clean break with the past.

The new Alitalia, provisionally called ITA, would see its fleet halved to fewer than 50 planes and have its workforce reduced to around 4,500, from around 11,000 today.

The Filt Cgil, Fit Cisl, Uiltrasporti and Ugl trade unions denounced the rescue conditions as “unacceptable, unfair and discriminatory.”

They also say the company risks running out of money within weeks.

Economic Development Minister Giancarlo Giorgetti met union representatives and told them the government was considering “alternative plans” in case the talks with Brussels “end badly”.

Union leaders and some Italian politicians have complained of EU double standards, because earlier this month the European Commission approved a four-billion-euro French public aid package for Air France-KLM.

Unlike Alitalia, however, Air France-KLM was not losing money before the coronavirus pandemic. Brussels state aid rules are far stricter for companies with no track record of financial sustainability.

While all airlines had profits wiped out by the pandemic, Alitalia has lost money non-stop since 2002, and has been under state administration since 2017.

Andrea Giuricin, a transport economics professor at Milan’s Bicocca university, has estimated that the carrier lost 11.4 billion euros over the past two decades.

Last week, Prime Minister Mario Draghi said he “was very sad” that Alitalia was going to lose its historic name, and said the company was like “family” to him, albeit “a bit of an expensive family”.

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