'Don’t sell Alitalia to the Sheikhs': Lufthansa CEO

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Lufthansa CEO Christoph Franz has said Alitalia should not be sold to Gulf airlines. John McDougall/AFP
15:37 CET+01:00
Christoph Franz, the CEO of the German airline, Lufthansa, has warned that the troubled Alitalia should "not be sold to the Sheikhs" as it would only become a "shuttle service towards the United Arab Emirates".

Franz, who is stepping down from the position in May after just three years in the post, made the comments during an interview with Corriere della Sera.

He fears airlines such as Dubai’s Emirates, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad and Qatar Airlines - which have been luring business customers away from European airlines - would only use Italy as a transit point for passengers making their way to the United States or Asia Pacific.

“If the Italian government wants to save Alitalia, then they must cancel agreements with the Emirates and Qatar that allow these countries to use Italy as a stopover to America,” he said.

“The passengers then leave for New York without helping the economy. It’s the same in Germany, it’s a European problem.”

He added Alitalia, which reported a net debt of €813m at the end of September, should instead work on developing a low-cost model similar to Ireland’s Aer Lingus.

He also said Lufthansa - Europe’s biggest airline by passenger number - is not interested in partnering with the Italian carrier because of its high debt and pact with Air France-KLM, which owns a 25 percent stake and has so far refused to take part in Alitalia’s recapitilization.

“We’re in a period of restructuring and, at this moment, we’re not ready to seize an opportunity to integrate Alitalia. We have other plans,” said Franz.

“Also, there’s the question of Air France-KLM. Alitalia has a close commercial agreement with Air France-KLM, which is difficult for another airline to replace. If you exit an alliance, there are penalties to pay.”

In early December, Alitalia said a capital increase aimed at raising up to €300 million had attracted €173 million from shareholders at that point.

The Italian government has said the state postal service has undertaken to contribute €75 million and has denied that this constitutes state aid

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The contribution is expected to help keep the airline flying over Christmas and as it seeks a foreign partner to help return it to profit.

However, analysts have warned that it may be forced to ground its fleet within six months unless a partner is found.  

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