Italy’s plan to establish a new national airline to replace Alitalia achieved another milestone this week as Italia Trasporto Aereo (ITA) obtained its air operator certificate and license. The move finalizes the months-long administrative, financial, and technical process to prove the airline holds the professional capacity to ensure the safe operation of its aircraft.
The country’s civil aviation authority, Ente Nazionale Aviazione Civile (ENAC), on Wednesday said it had granted ITA its AOC and air transport operating license, authorizing it to begin flying and selling tickets. The agency also updated the list of Italian airlines, revealing that Italia Trasporto Aereo will fly with the ICAO three-letter code ITY.
“ITA can take off,” ENAC president Pierluigi Di Palma said in a statement. “The hope is that the new national reference company will contribute to the restart of the sector, contributing decisively to overcoming the difficulties deriving from the pandemic crisis,” he commented.
The Italian government had initially hoped to get ITA in the air in April, before the peak summer season, but protracted and difficult discussions with the European Commission delayed the launch. Brussels and the Italian authorities at the end of May reached what the commission described as “a common understanding on the key parameters to ensure economic discontinuity between ITA and Alitalia.” On July 15, Italy publicly announced that the new state-owned airline will start flying on October 15 and that Alitalia will stop operating as an airline on the same day.
In an emailed statement to AIN, the commission said that it “has taken note” of July’s announcement by Italy. “The commission remains in close contact with the Italian authorities to ensure that the launch of ITA as a new and viable market player is in line with EU state aid rules,” it wrote.
“At the same time, the commission’s investigations into the compliance with EU state aid rules of state support granted to Alitalia in the range of €1.3 billion are ongoing,” a commission spokesperson said. “No formal decisions have been taken at this stage,” the spokesperson added, asserting that the commission aims to arrive at “legally solid decisions as soon as possible while ensuring that passengers remain protected. In this regard, Italy has reassured the commission that with Alitalia’s end of operations the rights of passengers will be protected.”
According to Italian media, passengers have expressed concern about the validity of tickets that Alitalia has sold—and continues to sell—for travel after October 15. Reportedly, ITA may not recognize the tickets as part of its commitment to proving it will operate as a company distinct from Alitalia. The Italian government apparently has allocated €100 million to a special fund to reimburse passengers for the unusable Alitalia tickets, though passengers risk losing money because ITA or other airlines might not offer the same routes or fares.
An ITA spokesperson did not immediately respond to AIN’s question as to whether the airline will maintain the October 15 launch date and whether it has already submitted a bid in a public tender to buy certain Alitalia assets such as its brand, which it sees as “an essential element” in the realization of its business plan.
ITA’s business plan calls for an initial fleet of 52 aircraft—including seven widebodies—and a route network spanning 45 destinations, increasing to 74 destinations and 89 routes by 2025. The initial fleet will come from Alitalia. “Discussions are underway with the main partners with the aim of a rapid conversion of the fleet that ITA will inherit from Alitalia towards a new generation of more environmental-friendly aircraft,” said the new airline. It expects the fleet to consist of 23 widebodies and 82 narrowbodies by the end of 2025, including 81 new generation aircraft—equal to 77 percent of the total fleet.
Its short- and medium-haul network will include “the main EU destinations” from Rome Fiumicino airport and Milan Linate while its domestic network will “guarantee” a wide coverage of national airports, serving 21 airports in the country. On long-haul, ITA will operate initially to New York, Tokyo, Boston, and Miami and add new routes to Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, São Paulo, and Washington, D.C. in the summer of 2022.
According to ITA, it will start operating with a “slot endowment consistent with the initial size of its fleet.” As part of the deal with Brussels, the successor airline of Alitalia may hold only 43 percent of the slots now held by Alitalia at Rome Fiumicino and 85 percent of Alitalia’s slots at Milan Linate Airport.