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Berlusconi vows to do all to keep Alitalia flying

Silvio Berlusconi, who swept to power in Italy’s latest election, vowed to do everything possible to keep Alitalia in the air and said “tens” of business owners were ready to invest in the struggling airline.

Berlusconi said the airline’s survival would be one of the first “emergencies” he would tackle after taking office. He told local television he had held a meeting about Alitalia on Monday evening as polling results showed he had won a clear majority in both houses of parliament. “Everything that is necessary to keep the flag carrier working ... to support tourism and the economy will be done,” he was earlier quoted by the Ansa news agency as telling a radio station.

Alitalia’s future looks uncertain after his victory because Berlusconi has opposed Air France-KLM’s plans to take over the airline in a deal supported by the outgoing government. Air France-KLM’s deal to buy Alitalia was scuppered by union opposition, though unions and the outgoing government say its decision to back out is not final. During his election campaign, Berlusconi said he favored an Italian buyer and often spoke of the interest in the business community to help save the airline. But time is not on his side.

Alitalia is running out of money and Italy’s aviation authority has warned it will be forced to suspend the airline’s license if the airline cannot explain within three weeks how it plans to fund operations for the next 12 months. Alitalia has said it has funds to last it “in the short term” but it loses more than €1 million ($1.6 million) a day. Further state aid is banned under European Union rules. Alitalia has even entered talks with airline industry association IATA about possible guarantees to allow it to keep using the organization’s settlements system if it were to go into administration.

Sergio Romano, a political analyst and columnist at the Corriere della Sera newspaper, told foreign journalists at a roundtable discussion on Monday he did not expect Berlusconi to find an alternative to Air France-KLM’s offer despite his opposition to it. “He will have to realize, that there is nothing to be done,” he said. “I think he will give it to the French.” Air France-KLM abandoned talks to buy Alitalia after the airline’s unions refused to sign the deal, which would lead to the loss of about 10% of the work force. (Reuters)