New Italian National Airline ‘ITA’ Set To Have 55-60 Aircraft

Italy and the European Union seem to have come a step closer to agreeing on the conditions for the successor of Alitalia. New information emerging from the talks in Brussels asserts that an unofficial approval of a plan for ITA of 55 to 60 aircraft and up to 5,000 employees is expected by next week.

New Italian National Airline ‘ITA’ Set To Have 55-60 Aircraft
The new Italian flag carrier ITA will start with a fleet of 55 to 60 aircraft. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Potential breakthrough in negotiations

After months of standstills and stalling, it seems the EU is finally set to give Italy the go-ahead for its new national airline. EU officials have demanded a clear separation between the assets and brand of Alitalia and the carrier set to be born out of its restructuring. Discussions have been particularly heated around Alitalia slots at Milan’s Linate Airport. 

However, now the structure of the new airline, which is to be known as Italia Trasporto Aereo, or ITA, is close to winning the approval of Brussels, Bloomberg reports. It will initially be allowed to employ between 4,500 to 5,000 staff and operate a fleet of 55 to 60 aircraft.

This is a reduction by about 40% to 45% from Alitalia’s pre-COVID fleet of just over 100 planes. However, only 45 of the airline’s fleet are currently listed as active according to the ch-aviation database, so present operating capacity would not be immediately affected.

It is unclear which aircraft the airline will keep and what ratio of narrowbody to dual-aisle composition the fleet will have. Alitalia owns only 11 aircraft outright – one Airbus A319, four A320s, one A321, and five Boeing 777s.

Alitalia owns four Airbus A320s. Photo: Getty Images

Alitalia still employs 11,000 people. Lengthy talks with trade unions have accompanied the political deadlock. Once Italy lifted its strict COVID restrictions on public gatherings, large demonstrations were held by the airline’s employees, including pilots, cabin crew, and administrative staff in Rome, in conjunction with Alitalia’s 74th anniversary of operations last month.

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Partner announcement by mid-June

Initial plans were to launch the new airline in April, as Alitalia’s CEO has expressed fear that delaying may cause the carrier to lose ground to low-cost airlines. Alitalia has been in contact with several potential partners for ITA. Talks have been held with Lufthansa and Air France-KLM, but it seems that the group headed by the German flag carrier is now the more likely for a commercial partnership.

Italian media reports that Delta Air Lines and United Airlines are the two prospective candidates for the US market. Delta confirmed to Corriere della Sera that the carrier is in talks with ITA to ‘consolidate and deepen their relationship’. Alitalia management has previously said a decision on a new partner is expected by mid-June.

Alitalia staff demonstrating in Rome
Alitalia employees and unions have demonstrated against the planned cuts for ITA. Photo: Getty Images

Years and billions of state-aid

Italy has been on quite the journey with its national airline. After years of losses, its fortune seemed to have turned when Etihad stepped in and took 49% ownership for €560 million in 2014. However, there was contention surrounding a restructuring plan, and the Gulf carrier walked away.

Following Alitalia’s bankruptcy in May 2017, the airline desperately sought a new owner. There was reported interest from a wide variety of operators, including easyJet, Lufthansa, China Eastern. However, plans fell through, and the Italian government stepped in and took full control in April last year to keep the carrier from ending operations. It now stands at the ready to inject €3 billion into ITA – given it wins final approval of Brussels. Hopefully, we will know by the end of next week.