Alitalia breakthrough as unions assuage

An eleventh-hour deal to rescue Alitalia could be on the cards after Italy’s largest union agreed to make a U-turn on its earlier refusal to back an offer from an Italian investment consortium, backed by Paiggio Chairman Roberto Colaninno
Gianni Letta, a senior adviser to Silvio Berlusconi, is meeting union leaders again this morning at the Prime Minister’s office, where he also held urgent talks last night with members of Compagnia Aerea Italia (CAI).

Several Italian newspapers including Corriere della Sera, La Stampa and Il Messaggero have published stories today of an imminent deal being struck.

On Monday CAI made official its decision last week to withdrawal its bid for Alitalia. The group had offered to pump US$1.4 billion into the bankrupt airline, whilst selling off unprofitable assets and merging the rest with Italy’s No. 2 carrier Air One. However it pulled out of discussions after six out of nine unions rejected its proposals, which would result in the loss of 3,000 jobs and remaining staff taking cuts of 30%.

However, Guglielmo Epifani, leader of CGIL, Italy’s largest union, said today that reduced pay and tougher working practices offered by CAI meant that the union could “sign up” to the package. Pilots unions also hinted they might agree.

The potential breakthrough comes as Augusto Fantozzi, the special commissioner of Alitalia since it entered bankruptcy protection in August, this morning meets officials from ENAC, Italy’s civil aviation authority, which has said it will withdraw the struggling airline’s operating licence this week unless it comes up with a cost-cutting rescue plan.

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Alitalia’s desperation was confirmed on Tuesday when it took out a series of advertisements in newspapers seeking potential buyers for all or any parts of its assets.

The announcements in the Italian newspapers Corriere della Sera, il Sole-24 Ore and la Repubblica, as well as the London-based Financial Times said alitalia is seeking “whoever might be able to guarantee the continuity, in the medium term, of the transportation service ... to submit its expression of interest.”
Unless a buyer steps in, the airline faces closure as early as this Friday and by 1 October at the latest.
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