Italy pushes to seal Alitalia deal on Monday as Atlantia mulls investment

ROME (Reuters) - Italy is determined to close a deal to save its ailing flag carrier Alitalia on Monday, with infrastructure group Atlantia ATL.MI seen as a possible investor, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Alitalia airplanes are pictured at Leonardo da Vinci-Fiumicino Airport in Rome, Italy, March 30, 2019. REUTERS/Alberto Lingria/File Photo

Battling to rescue the airline for the third time in a decade, Di Maio, who also serves as industry minister, has been working for months on a plan to hook it up with state-owned railway group Ferrovie dello Stato.

Ferrovie has a commitment from Delta Air Lines DAL.N to take a 10-15% stake, but still needs to find another partner.

Atlantia, controlled by the Benetton family, is likely to discuss a possible investment in Alitalia at a board meeting on Thursday, two sources familiar with the matter said, confirming a press report.

Il Sole 24 Ore daily said on Wednesday Atlantia was considering buying 35-40% of the perennially loss-making airline with an investment of around 300 million euros ($336 million) - the amount of the financing shortfall in the government’s rescue package.

Atlantia declined to comment on the report.

“They tell me that there might be a proposal coming from Atlantia,” Di Maio said on Facebook, while making clear that other investors were also still in the frame, including infrastructure group Toto Holding.

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Relations between Di Maio and Atlantia have been fraught following the deadly collapse last year of a Genoa motorway bridge that was operated by one of its units.

Government ministers have blamed poor maintenance for the disaster that killed 43 people. Atlantia has denied any wrongdoing, but Di Maio has threatened to revoke its motorway concession.

Two sources from Di Maio’s anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which governs Italy with the right-wing League, told Reuters last week that the party was prepared to settle the matter provided Atlantia accepted a number of conditions, including cuts to road tolls - a move that would cheer Italians, and possibly boost 5-Star’s declining consensus.

Di Maio on Sunday said a solution over the concession revocation could be found if Italians got back “all that’s being taken away from them in recent years due to increases in toll roads”.

But he denied any link to the Alitalia deal.

“I have no prejudices about Atlantia regarding Alitalia, but nobody should think that the government can take a step back regarding the issue of revoking the motorway concession,” Di Maio said.

Last month, the government postponed for the fourth time a deadline for Ferrovie to present a binding bid for Alitalia, extending it to July 15. Di Maio said there could not be any further delay.

“We must close on Monday 15th,” he said.

Italian daily Il Messaggero said on Wednesday that the U.S. airline Delta will pull out from the deal if Atlantia does not come onboard. Delta declined to comment.

Shares in Atlantia closed up 1.3% outperforming Italy's blue-chip index .FTMIB which rose 0.7%.

Reporting by Giselda Vagnoni, Eliza Anzolin, Stefano Bernabei, Angelo Amante and Valentina Za; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Kirsten Donovan