Struggling Italian airline Alitalia has suspended its last long-haul route, becoming a short-haul only airline for the foreseeable future. The airline canceled its daily direct Rome to New York service from today and will only operate regional routes until at least June.
The last of the long-haul
Alitalia is well known to have had financial issues before the coronavirus crisis. Indeed, the ongoing problems at the airline have led the Italian government to lay plans to nationalize the carrier. The ‘new Alitalia’ is projected to be a mere shadow of its former self, flying fewer aircraft and employing less people.
Right now, the airline still operates 113 aircraft and has 12,000 or so employees on its books. However, most of these planes are currently grounded due to the coronavirus travel slump, and now it seems a few more will be too.
Reuters is reporting that, as of today, the airline has suspended its last remaining long-haul flight. Its daily service between Rome and New York will not operate again before the 1st of June.
The airline is noted to have put this down to a marked slowdown in demand for the service towards the end of April, and the worrying level of COVID-19 cases in New York. Simple Flying reader Andrea advises us that there was an average of just 32 passengers per flight between Rome and JFK last month.
Trade unions not happy
Italy’s Federazione Nazionale del Trasporto Aereo (FNTA), a federation of three flight crew trade unions, has expressed its frustration with the decision to drop New York. It argues that the move will force passengers to choose rival airlines such as Air France instead.
FNTA is reported to have written to Alitalia executives and to Italian ministers appealing the decision. In a letter seen by Reuters, the union representatives said,
“We consider this decision to be absolutely inexplicable and unacceptable, both for commercial reasons and in general, because it deprives Italian citizens of the only direct connection still existing between Italy and the United States and diverts passengers to Air France-KLM.”
It’s unlikely that the union’s appeals will lead to any change in the decision. Even before the coronavirus crisis, Alitalia was struggling to maintain services. The state-appointed administrator for the airline, Giuseppe Leogrande, had noted last week that the airline was operating just a tenth of the services it had before the crisis, with long-haul flight capacity severely reduced.
Hopes for revival
Although things don’t look great for the struggling airline right now, there are high hopes that its future could be assured with a government-led revamp. Despite looking for buyers for the airline for some time, the government finally admitted defeat earlier this year and intends to take control of the airline going forward.
It is hoped that the government intervention planned for Alitalia, and subsequent restructuring of the airline, will take it back into the black. The airline has not turned a profit for more than a decade but has a key opportunity for revival now thanks to the demise of Air Italy.
The Italian government has set aside over $500m to revive the carrier and reportedly plans to take control of the airline in June this year. The takeover will include a potential exit of SkyTeam, with the renewal of its membership due on May 21st.