Alitalia rescue at risk as suitors set conditions: source

ROME (Reuters) - Delta Air Lines and easyJet have set strict conditions for investing in Alitalia that could jeopardize a government-led plan to rescue the troubled Italian airline, a source close to the matter said.

FILE PHOTO: Passengers board an Alitalia airplane at the Cagliari airport, Italy, July 9, 2018. Picture taken July 9, 2018. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini/File Photo

Alitalia was put under special administration in 2017 after workers rejected the latest in a long line of rescue plans.

Italy’s populist government, which has made the re-launch of the flagship carrier one of its priorities, is sponsoring a plan that would see state-owned railway Ferrovie inject fresh funds and revamp the carrier together with industrial partners.

Delta and easyJet, which have expressed interest in Alitalia, are in talks with Ferrovie, but the three investors do not see eye to eye on the structure of the deal.

Without an industrial partner fully on board, Alitalia could soon find itself in trouble since neither Ferrovie nor the state have the skills to run the carrier, the source said.

EasyJet has said several times it is interested in Alitalia’s short-haul operations and positions at primary airports, adding the alliance should be commercially viable.

The British low-cost carrier would be open to taking a stake of 15 percent in the Italian airline but only if it wins control of certain Alitalia assets, the source said.

That condition has irritated the three special commissioners in charge of the airline, who fear it could lead to a break-up of the company. The administrators have the power to decide on the offers.

At the same time Delta is also planning to take a 15 percent stake, spending around 100 million euros in the proposed 900 million euro ($1 billion) rescue plan, but does not want to inject more than that, the source said.

A participation of 30 percent or less by the industrial partners, compared with a stake of around 40 percent Ferrovie was counting on, would force the government to find additional investors, probably among state-controlled companies, a second source said.

Ferrovie is expected to take a stake of between 30 and 49 percent in the new carrier, the second source said, making a full involvement of Delta and easyJet crucial.

According to Italian newspaper Il Messaggero, Ferrovie CEO Gianfranco Battisti will fly to Atlanta in the coming days to try to convince Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian to pump more money into the rescue plan.

Ferrovie, easyJet declined to comment on the issue, while Delta was not immediately available for comment.

Ferrovie is racing against the clock to meet a March 31 deadline set by the Italian government to present a rescue plan for Alitalia.

Should that deadline be missed, it would jeopardize the repayment of 900 million euro state loan to the airline, which must take place by the end of June.

Additional reporting by Francesca Landini in Milan, Alistair Smout in London, Tracy Rucinski in Chicago, Writing by Francesca Landini; Editing by Keith Weir