Unions striking for Alitalia fix ground hundreds of flights

ROME — Hundreds of international and domestic flights in Italy were cancelled Friday as air transport workers held a nationwide strike to protest feared firings and salary cuts at troubled national carrier Alitalia.

Attempts to find a buyer for the airline, run by state-appointed administrators since it declared bankruptcy in 2017, fell apart last month. Last week, the Italian government agreed to grant Alitalia a new 400 million euros ($445 million) to keep it afloat until a buyer can be found.

Friday’s strike cancelled more than 350 Alitalia flights, and several flights by Air Italy, a private carrier based in Sardinia.

Unions say they want a mixture of state and private investment in Alitalia.

“We favour both a public investment in Alitalia, which would grant us more protection on the jobs’ side, and a private partner, which would bring the needed know-how to the company,” said Guido Barcucci, spokesman for the national Filt-Cgil union, which on Friday participated in the workers’ protests at Rome’s Fiumicino airport.

“Our request is that a new industrial plan is drafted for Alitalia, excluding cuts in the labour force or the workers’ salaries,” Barcucci added.

Italy’s state-controlled railway company Ferrovie dello Stato had tried to form a consortium to take over Alitalia, but the initiative fell apart last month. Possible interested buyers, including Lufthansa and Delta Air Lines, dropped out at the last minute.

Alitalia has not posted a profit for 15 years. According to analysts’ estimates, it is losing 700,000 euros ($780,000) per day, as it struggles to cope with low cost competition on short-range routes and an inadequate long-range network.

Nationalization recently resurfaced as a likely option for the carrier, should the new loan fail to secure a buyer by the end of spring 2020.

A potential nationalization could run for up to one year to provide the government with some breathing room. Analysts, however, say this would only prolong the company’s agony.

“The only way to relaunch Alitalia is to focus on an industrial strategy that enhances all the four different business: long-range flights; medium and short-range flights; handling and maintenance,” said Oliviero Baccelli, director of the master in economy and transportation at Milan’s Bocconi University.

“The solution is to look for four different industrial partners, specialized in each of the different sectors,” he added.

Italy has received approval from the European Union for the new loan, which follows previous government credit of 900 million euros ($1 billion). Both must be repaid or be considered unfair state subsidies.

Giada Zampano, The Associated Press