Board of struggling Italian carrier Alitalia approves capital increase as part of $678m rescue

MILAN – The Alitalia board on Friday approved a 300 million euro ($400 million) capital increase as part of a rescue plan for the struggling flagship airline.

The capital increase includes up to 75 million euros from the Italian Postal Services, and the rest from the consortium that runs Alitalia and a bridge loan from banks.

Italian Premier Enrico Letta said in a statement Thursday that the entrance of Poste Italiane SpA into the shareholder structure must include an overhaul of the business plan.

On top of the capital increase, banks Intesa San Paolo and Unicredit are preparing a 200-million-euro line of credit.

Alitalia lost 294 million euros in the first half of the year, compared with a 201 million loss in the first half of 2012. Net debt was 946 million euros at the end of June.

Alitalia has focused mostly on domestic routes since a group of Italian businessmen relaunched a slimmed-down airline in 2009 after Air France-KLM’s failed takeover bid. Air France remains the main shareholder with a 25-per cent stake.

Analysts say the rescue would better position Alitalia to negotiate other alliances to help it reposition itself in the market.

The government hailed the synergies between Alitalia and the postal service, citing the postal services cargo and passenger service.

However, airline analyst Oliviero Baccelli at Milan’s Bocconi University said the postal services participation would be mostly a financial one, and that there were not true synergies given that Alitalia sold off its cargo business five years ago, and that the postal service operates different aircraft than Alitalia and from an airport in Brescia not served by Alitalia.

To return to profitability, Alitalia should focus on longer-range flights toward the Middle East, Asia and South America, Baccelli said.

The airline’s margins have been hurt by Italy’s recession, higher fuel prices and higher environmental and airport taxes.