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Air One seeks Alitalia bid support from business

The head of Air One airline met with an executive of a leading bank and other business executives from northern Italy on Tuesday as he tried to drum up support for another attempt at buying Alitalia.

Carlo Toto met with Gaetano Micciche, head of Intesa Sanpaolo’s corporate division, and other business leaders from Lombardy region in the latest in a series of meetings about a new bid to rival the one made by Air France-KLM. Toto, who has invited both domestic and foreign investors to support his cause, declined to comment to reporters after the meeting. The last bid made by Toto’s Air One for the struggling flagship airline was rejected late last year by the outgoing government in favor of the one by Air France-KLM.

Alitalia has since gone into exclusive talks with the French-Dutch carrier. Air One is suing to stop the talks, and an administrative court is to make a decision on Feb. 20. Toto’s desire to file a new bid has grabbed the attention of political and business leaders in northern Italy because they are concerned about the future of Malpensa, the international airport that serves their region.

Air France-KLM favors Alitalia’s plans to drastically reduce flights at the airport as part of a restructuring of its money-losing operations. Fewer flights at the airport would not only mean a loss of status for the region, but also a loss of business and jobs. Although the local media have spoken of about 20 business leaders interested in helping Toto, only a few have spoken about it publicly, including banking giant Intesa Sanpaolo and food caterer My Chef. The chairman of Pirelli, a holding company, has shown interest should a viable project materialize.

Last month’s collapse of Prime Minister Romano Prodi’s government has put pressure on Alitalia’s shares because investors fear the talks between the airline and Air France-KLM could be threatened. Although Prodi has said he would do his best to get a deal, some politicians have questioned whether such a sensitive sale can be pushed through by an outgoing government ahead of the April 13-14 election. But a top official from opposition leader Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition has said it would not undo any deal struck between Alitalia and Air France-KLM if it were to win the election. Berlusconi is seen as a favorite in the election due to his lead in the polls. (Reuters)