Alitalia hires bankers to tackle liquidity crisis
* May need to raise more than 400 mln euros
* Investor lock-up period expires mid-October
* Etihad mentioned by local press as potential partner
MILAN, Sept 3 (Reuters) - Struggling Italian airline Alitalia has hired boutique investment bank Leonardo & Co to help tackle a liquidity crisis that may see it running out of cash before year's end.
The move is aimed at finding ways to raise more than 400 million euros to keep the loss-making carrier afloat, a source familiar with the situation said.
Alitalia has struggled to make a profit throughout its corporate life and has been bailed out repeatedly by the Italian state.
It agreed salary cuts with unions in June and its chief executive and board members reduced their pay by 20 percent ahead of the drawing up of a new strategic plan.
The airline, which is 25 percent owned by Air France-KLM , was rescued from bankruptcy in 2008 and bought by a consortium of Italian companies including bank Intesa Sanpaolo , road operator Atlantia and holding company IMMSI, the owner of scooter-maker Piaggio.
The investors might sell out after the expiry in mid-October of a lock-up period, paving the way for new shareholders.
The airline said in a statement it had hired the bankers, owned by the Banca Leonardo group and founded by Gerardo Braggiotti, to "assist the company in its relationships with the banks."
In its industrial plan, the company said it planned to increase its financial resources by 300 million euros ($400 million) by the end of this year, but this may not be enough.
Italian newspapers said last month Alitalia was in talks with Etihad Airways on a commercial deal that might lead to the Abu Dhabi-based carrier taking a stake.
Alitalia and Etihad were also mentioned in the context of a possible tie-up earlier this year, but Etihad said at the time there were no talks between the two firms beyond those on code sharing.
Alitalia earlier this year hired turnaround specialist Gabriele del Torchio to lead it back to profit.
The airline has pushed back to the end of September the approval of its mid-year financial statement, that was due to be approved by the board, mainly to address a tax dispute.
Alitalia was not immediately available for comment. ($1 = 0.7582 euros) (Reporting By Lisa Jucca; Editing by David Cowell)
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