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Alitalia sale attracts 11 potential bidders

Initial interest in the sale of Alitalia far exceeded expectations with 11 groups saying they could go on to bid for the stricken airline before the deadline on Monday night.

The Italian government, which is selling the majority of its controlling stake as the first step in an attempted rescue of Alitalia, said it would review the „manifestations of interest” in the next few days. Air France-KLM, expected to be the favorite if it submits a bid, was not on the list. However, financiers have been saying that the Franco-Dutch airline could join in at a later stage. Air One, the Italian airline, is on the list and the rest are mainly financial groups. Although the number of bidders outstripped forecasts, the initial expressions of interest are a long way from maturing into bids. Many of the people involved have privately said that the government would have to give them a free hand in restructuring Alitalia, which said at the weekend that it expected a loss of €380 million for 2006 – exceeding forecasts and highlighting how difficult a turnround would be.

The government wants the Italian nature of the company preserved along with domestic routes and jobs, though it has signaled a willingness to be flexible on staffing. A sticking point is the need to maintain hubs in Rome and Milan. Paolo Alazraki, the Italian businessman who is one of the bidders, said: „Pilots, hostesses and the other employees are the only good thing about Alitalia. The rest of it can be thrown away.” Air France said in a note on Monday that it had not presented a bid and that the conditions were not suitable. It said it would continue to develop its commercial relationship with Alitalia, in which it has a 2% stake. The bidders along with Air One and Alazraki are: Benstar-Saturn Enterprises, Fabio Scaccia, a group led by Management & Capitali, MatlinPatterson Global Advisers, Net Present Value, Porcellana Castello, Terra Firma Investments, Texas Pacific Group, and Unicredit Banca Mobiliare. (Financial Times)