Alitalia takes off again amid protests in Milan and Rome

The renewed Italian air carrier Alitalia has resumed its activity with the first flight under new ownership, while employees and airport workers staged protests at Milan and Rome airports. The protests were much smaller than expected.


AFP - Italy's flagship carrier Alitalia took to the skies under private ownership on Tuesday, facing turbulence on the ground as employees and airport workers staged protests.

Protests at Milan's Linate airport caused about 10 flight cancellations, the ANSA news agency reported.

At Milan's Malpensa, employees protested at check-in areas, while a union representing flight attendants and ground crew protested at Rome's Fiumicino airport as well as other airport workers affected by restructuring, ANSA said.

The protests were much smaller than feared thanks to 11th-hour accords on working conditions reached Monday night between management and the unions.

On Monday, the airline, taken over by the Italian Air Company (CAI) grouping prominent Italian business leaders, announced that it had sealed a deal with Air France-KLM under which the European giant acquired a 25 percent stake for some 323 million euros (432 million dollars).

CAI's investors put up 1.052 billion euros to acquire the passenger operations of the near-bankrupt Alitalia, and another 300 million for domestic rival Air One, whose managing director Carlo Toto reinvested 60 million euros in the new company.

In making the acquisition, Air France beat out its European rival Lufthansa, which is expanding on several other fronts.

Lufthansa wanted more than 25 percent of the company, CAI managing director Rocco Sabelli said in an interview published Tuesday.

The German airline never made a formal offer and had asked for "revenues from joint operations to be paid into a common fund, a sort of hidden merger," he told the Italian daily La Stampa.

Flying the same colours as before, the first planes of the relaunched Alitalia took off from Palermo for Rome and from Milan for Sao Paulo, Brazil, early Tuesday morning.

The streamlined company has some 12,000 employees after shedding more than 3,000 jobs.

Its fleet of 148 planes will fly 670 routes a day, down more than a third from the 1,050 routes flown by Alitalia and Air One each day a year ago.

Thirteen of the intercontinental flights now originate in Rome, while Malpensa airport retains just three.

Leading shareholders in the new Alitalia include the Benetton Group, head of Italy's employers association Emma Marcegaglia, Pirelli tyre group president Marco Tronchetti Provera, and banking giant Intesa Sanpaolo.

Activities including cargo and maintenance have been sold to help pay off the old company's debts estimated at three billion dollars.

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