Bankrupt Alitalia on April 10 said it received takeover bids from three parties, adding that its commissioners will now examine the offers “over the next days.” It did not disclose who submitted an offer, but several key EU airlines including UK low-cost carrier easyJet, Lufthansa, Air France-KLM, and Wizz Air reportedly tabled interest in buying the whole or part of the group. Delta Air Lines has also expressed interest in Alitalia, a stake that would add to its expanding European portfolio that already includes 10 percent of Air France-KLM and 49 percent of Virgin Atlantic.
However, it appears unlikely a transaction will conclude in the coming weeks. The cabinet of the current caretaking government decided on Monday to push back the sale by several months and issue a special decree to postpone the sale deadline next week, an Alitalia executive told AIN. “The deadline has been postponed, that is for sure,” the executive said, adding that no new definite deadline appears set. “The sale is put on hold until most likely September 30 when also the first tranche of the bridging loan has to be paid back,” according to the executive.
The Italian government handed Alitalia a €600 million ($742 million) interest-bearing bridge loan after the company filed for extraordinary bankruptcy proceedings in May and employees rejected a deal on salary and benefits cuts proposed by the company, in which UAE-based Etihad committed a big investment. The government proffered an additional €300 million ($371 million) of taxpayer funds in October, while simultaneously extending the deadline for the repayment of the loan, which was to come due from November 2017 to September 30, 2018. It also extended the initial sale deadline by almost six months, to April 30, citing “extraordinary events” changing the “strategic dynamics” in the sector, including the collapse of Air Berlin, the failure of Monarch in the UK, and the operational crisis at Ryanair.
The reason for this month’s delay is political. Alitalia’s future became a hot topic in the country’s general election, which took place March 4. No clear winner emerged, nor did an agreement on how to form a government. The two political parties that gained the most votes (5Stars and Lega Nord) said during their campaign they wanted to keep Alitalia under state ownership, therefore it appears unlikely anyone will decide on Alitalia’s sale until a new government takes power.
The idea of at least a partial state ownership and a Italian solution for the Italian airline received support from the chairman of Italian state lender Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, who said the CDP wouldn’t rule out opening a discussion over a financial partnership with a potential buyer of Alitalia. Such a move, however, would require a change in mandate of the semi-state entity, which requires it invest only in companies with positive results. Alitalia has posted losses in most of its 71-year history.
In a stock market filing, easyJet confirmed it submitted “a revised expression of interest for a restructured Alitalia consistent with easyJet’s existing strategy for Italy.” The airline said the content of the expression of interest remains subject to confidentiality, though it specified it bid together with other parties “as part of a consortium.”
EasyJet already last year expressed interest in Alitalia and now has formed a consortium with U.S. equity fund Cerberus Capital Management, Air France-KLM, and Delta. The Franco-Dutch group has remained tight-lipped about its potential interest in Alitalia—it used to hold a 25 percent stake in Alitalia—but the Franco-Dutch group and its U.S. SkyTeam and transatlantic joint venture partner Delta won access to Alitalia’s data room last year. “Air France-KLM and Delta woke up last year after Lufthansa wanted to snap Alitalia up for a mere €200 or €300 million [$247 million or $371 million],” the Alitalia executive noted. “They have a vast interest in keeping close ties to Alitalia and not handing the Italian market to Lufthansa.”
A spokeswoman for Air France-KLM told AIN that the company does not plan to take a stake in the company. A company official who asked for anonymity, however, noted that an equity stake is not the only way to be involved in a takeover, reflecting statements made by Air France-KLM CEO Jean-Marc Janaillac in February that the group could not afford to spurn interest in Alitalia because the Italian airline is part of SkyTeam and a partner in the transatlantic joint venture.
Lufthansa said it submitted a document with ideas for a “new Alitalia,” though it reiterated it would be interested only in a restructured airline.
While its future remains unclear, Alitalia continues with turnaround efforts. A new round of temporary layoffs will start in May, affecting 90 pilots, 350 flight attendants, and some 1,200 ground staff and head office employees.