Airport slots main sticking point in Rome/EU talks on Alitalia – sources

FILE PHOTO: Two workers are seen next to an Alitalia plane at Fiumicino airport in Rome, Italy
FILE PHOTO: Two workers are seen next to an Alitalia plane at Fiumicino airport in Rome, Italy, March 5, 2021. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

March 26, 2021

By Francesca Landini, Angelo Amante and Giuseppe Fonte

MILAN (Reuters) – Talks between the EU and Italy on a restructuring plan for Alitalia face a stumbling block as the European Commission demands the carrier give up a significant number of airport slots, three sources close to the matter said.

Brussels and Rome have been in talks since the beginning of this year over Italy’s plan to restructure the ailing airline through the launch of a new, state-owned company called ITA.

Under Rome’s plan, ITA should take over the brand, the slots and part of the assets of the old carrier to start flying with a small fleet before the summer.

However, the nationalisation and the injection of 3 billion euros ($3.53 billion) in taxpayers’ money into the new carrier need the EU clearance and a further delay in talks between Rome and Brussels could put at risk the Italian carrier’s summer season.

“That’s where the problem lies, in (Milan city airport) Linate’s slots,” one source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Another source said that the Commission is demanding a significant reduction in the slots that Alitalia would transfer to ITA, and said the ITA business plan has not been cleared yet by Brussels.

The European Commission declined to comment.

A key meeting between EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager and Italian ministers involved in Alitalia’s nationalisation is scheduled for Friday afternoon.

ITA has until now rejected the idea of giving up slots at Milan city airport Linate, where Alitalia operated more than 50% of total slots before the pandemic hit.

Ryanair is interested in taking part in a tender to buy slots at Milan Linate airport and Rome Fiumicino airports if Alitalia puts them on the block, the Irish carrier said in January.

Germany’s Lufthansa, in return for a 9 billion euro bailout last year, reluctantly gave up 24 slots at each of its main hubs, Frankfurt and Munich.

($1 = 0.8488 euros)

(Reporting by Francesca Landini; Additional reporting by Foo Yun Chee in Brussels; Editing by Susan Fenton)