July 17 (Reuters) - Italy's auction of Alitalia AZPIa.MI was close to failure on Tuesday after domestic carrier Air One pulled out, leaving the airline with just one potential suitor -- a buyout fund showing little life according to one minister.
Following are details of the bid process, Alitalia and its remaining suitor, ahead of a July 23 deadline for final offers:
The government announced it was putting its Alitalia stake up for sale in late December 2006.
Rome owns 49.9 percent of the carrier and is seeking bids for at least 39.9 percent, which would automatically trigger a full bid under Italian takeover law.
There were 11 bidders initially, but the number shrank gradually, with only three reaching the stage before final bidding.
Private equity firms TPG [TPG.UL] and MatlinPatterson pulled out at the end of May, citing difficulties with the rules.
The only bidder formally left is MatlinPatterson, a U.S. buyout fund that recently rejoined the process, but which Transport Minister Alessandro Bianchi has said has shown few “signs of life.”
Russia’s Aeroflot withdrew at the end of June, leaving Air One as the only credible suitor.
Italy’s national carrier has lost nearly a quarter of its value since the government announced its privatisation on Dec. 29, 2006 and its market worth now barely exceeds its debt, which was 995 million euros at the end of March.
The airline has posted an annual operating loss every year since 1999 and loses around a million euros a day.
The 60-year-old airline serves 25 domestic airports and 85 destinations in the rest of the world and carried 24 million passengers in 2005. It has a fleet of about 181 aircraft.
Its hubs are at Fiumicino in Rome and Malpensa for Milan. The busy and lucrative route linking the heart of Italy’s political and business capitals is a key attraction.
It has about 20,000 employees, including its air cargo services, of which 6,800 are flight crew.
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(Sources: Reuters data, company Web sites)
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