You can’t keep a good airline down. Or Alitalia

Simon Calder, also referred to as The Man Who Pays His Approach, has been writing about journey for The Unbiased since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a key journey challenge – and what it means for you.

Shortly earlier than midnight on Thursday, the last-ever Alitalia flight touched down at Rome’s important airport. The arrival of AZ1586 from Cagliari in Sardinia marked the top of seven troubled a long time for the Italian nationwide service.

Or did it?

From the primary departure at 8am on Friday morning, it regarded like enterprise as standard at Rome Fiumicino. Specifically, a dozen planes have been scheduled on the important thing path to Milan Linate (the town centre’s nearest airport, a lot most popular by enterprise travellers).

Every weekday, a dozen planes depart from Rome to Linate. As much as Thursday, they have been all Alitalia; mysteriously, rival operators have by no means been in a position to safe rights for the prime intra-Italian air route.

From Friday they’re all flying underneath the Italia Trasporto Aereo (ITA) model. But frequent travellers will recognise the identical crew flying the identical plane with the identical AZ flight numbers on the identical instances.

The extra issues change, the extra Alitalia stays the identical.

After the Second World Conflict, each nation in Europe wished an airline and was ready to pay no matter it price. Carriers corresponding to Air France, Lufthansa and KLM  have been weaned off state support (though throughout the coronavirus pandemic they’ve gone again for billions of euros). In distinction, Alitalia has lengthy revelled in overstaffing and inefficiency funded by Italian taxpayers.

As soon as the twenty first century started, such a dolce vita turned difficult. With aviation in Europe liberalised, passengers flocked to the decrease fares and better reliability of easyJet and Ryanair. And the expansion of a superb high-speed rail community in Italy devoured a lot of the home market.

Confronted with a collapse in income, any regular enterprise would fold. However Alitalia defied market forces because of a ceaseless pipeline of cash, which I calculate has averaged £6 per second for the previous 20 years.

Some was from different airways: Air France and Etihad of Abu Dhabi threw within the inflight towel after shedding a whole lot of hundreds of thousands of kilos in unwise investments in Alitalia. However most was from the ever-helpful Italian finance ministry.

Not precisely free and honest competitors. Finally the EU competitors police in Brussels ordered Alitalia to pay a whole lot of hundreds of thousands of euros again to the Italian authorities, which after all it couldn’t do. So ostensibly the airline is closing. The title disappears – together with accrued money owed of getting on for £1bn, duly written off by the Italian authorities.

The successor airline begins with a useful £600m or so in start-up help. ITA goals to be “an environment friendly and progressive air service that can change into a reference level in offering Italy with high quality connectivity”.

However an airline designed within the days when aviation labored on collaboration fairly than competitors can’t flourish in opposition to well-run competitors. Anyway, ITA is not more than a brief change of company clothes. Simply as the ultimate curtain was about to return down, ITA introduced it had acquired the rights to the Alitalia model.

As I wrote 4 years in the past when the airline was rescued but once more at huge price, in a mockery of financial actuality, Alitalia is simply too Italian to fail.


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