Alitalia could remain in state hands, says EC

The European Commission has declared it is “neutral” on whether Italian carrier Alitalia emerges from administration as wholly private owned or partially in the hands of the state.

Alitalia has been in extraordinary administration since May last year when leading shareholder Etihad withdrew support following the rejection of a turnaround plan by the airline’s workforce.

EU Commissioner for Competition Margrethe Vestager said this week that the door remains open to “public ownership [of Alitalia], but without state aid”.

Vestager said: “We do not have a preferred solution on Alitalia. We are neutral [on the ownership]. It is possible that it is partly public.

“What we look at is that it acts like any other player in the market so that there is no state aid.”

The EC is investigating a €900-million loan from the Italian government which kept Alitalia flying through the administration process. The loan is due to be repaid by December 15.

A series of airlines – including Ryanair and British Airways-owner IAG – have filed formal complaints to the EC about the loan.

Vestager said: “There is an open dossier on which we are working with the Italian authorities.”

EU rules restrict government loans and Alitalia received a previous loan in 2008.

However, the Italian government argues the ‘new’ Alitalia is a separate entity from the airline which failed last year and therefore the loan does not violate state aid rules.

The government continues to seek a new owner or part-investor for the airline.

Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera reports Lufthansa, easyJet and Wizz Air remain in the running. But the process has been complicated by the Italian election in March which resulted in a new government being formed only at the end of May.

Ryanair ruled itself out of contention to buy Alitalia last autumn.

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