When the plane touches down a little after 11pm, Italy’s national airline will have completed its 74-year run. The carrier is to be replaced by the slimmed-down ITA (Italia Trasporto Aereo), which will employ 2,800 workers compared to Alitalia’s 11,000.
“Ladies and gentlemen, first of all, I wanted to thank you for having accompanied us for these 74 years,” said a visibly emotional Alitalia air steward over the announcer as passengers at Rome’s Fiumicino airport prepared to board a midday flight on the final day of the company’s operation.
“Today is our last Alitalia flight, and from the bottom of our hearts, thanks for flying with us and putting your trust in us.”
Founded in 1946 as Aerolinee Italiane Internazionali, but known popularly as Alitalia (a portmanteau of ‘Italy’ and ‘wings’), Italy’s former national airline flourished in Europe’s post-war boom.
The company continued to grow in the 70’s, expanding its range of aircraft, and was the first European airline to have a fleet made up entirely of jet planes.
But the end of the decade brought a troubled period of trade union strikes, and as Italy’s economy entered a period of decline in the 90’s, so did Alitalia’s fortunes.
In 2008, after years of loss-making, the company filed for bankruptcy protection and was privatised and relaunched. But the move failed to restore the airline’s finances, and in 2017 Alitalia filed for bankruptcy again.
When the Italian government announced last year that it intended to bail the company out to the tune of €3 billion, European Commission regulators raised concerns about the legality of the proposal.
The parties reached an agreement in July entailing the closure of Alitalia and the creation of a new, separate company sufficiently economically distanced from its predecessor – ITA, which starts operations tomorrow.
However, the Alitalia name may not be completely dead.
Under the terms of the Italian government’s deal with the EU Commission, the Alitalia brand was put up for auction, with the company’s commissioners stipulating a base price of €290 million – but no takers materialised.
ITA has reportedly offered €90 for the brand name, and negotiations are underway.