There is no peace in the Italian skies. With Alitalia in administration for almost three years, the news came Tuesday of the voluntary liquidation of Air Italy (although the company is still solvent).
The Sardinian based airline, formerly called Meridiana, is majority owned by Aga Khan, the Ismaili prince and business tycoon whose ventures in the Italian airline market began with Alisarda in the ‘60s, when he launched the Costa Smeralda in Sardinia as a tourist destination and built up Porto Cervo from almost nothing.
Since September 2017, the company has been partly owned by Qatar Airways, with 49% of shares, due to European constraints that do not allow it to control two companies in different countries. Now, the shareholders have decided to cease operations: the aircraft are grounded, but regular scheduled flights will continue until Feb. 25 through other carriers. Passengers who have booked flights departing on dates after Feb. 25 will be re-routed or reimbursed.
The notice appeared on the company’s website, clarifying little about the situation except for the fact that the airline no longer exists.
As recently as February 2018, the airline had announced a re-launch plan, with long-haul aircraft and long-distance flights (to New York) based at Malpensa airport. However, the plan failed, and the two shareholders decided to shut down the company to avoid further losses and liquidate it in bonis, because, “following the presentation of the 2020 budget by the management, the shareholders requested an in-depth analysis by independent experts, which highlighted the lack of concrete prospects for any improvement in the future.”
From such a perspective, the fate of the 1,200 direct employees who are now facing joblessness, 550 of them in Sardinia, is merely a detail. The president of the company, Roberto Spada, informed them plainly that their services were no longer needed, in a letter in which he spoke of “a difficult but necessary choice.”
On Monday morning, as the scenario of the company’s liquidation became more and more concrete, the government, at the initiative of Transport Minister Paola De Micheli, tried to halt the decision. However, the shareholders, convened in a videoconference between Milan and Doha, did not budge from their chosen course. Faced with an estimated loss of €230 million in 2019—no less than 70% of the expected turnover of around €330 million—the shareholders, Alisarda with 51% and Qatar Airways with 49%, unanimously decided to bail out.
The chosen procedure, in bonis liquidation, provides for full repayment of debts to employees and creditors. The two liquidators have already been appointed: Professor Enrico Laghi—in yet another of his many appointments as administrator after those for Alitalia and ILVA, for which he is earning fees that go up to seven figures—and Franco Lagro. They will have to ensure the payment of all the company’s liabilities, including those towards employees.
“We are hearing about a last-minute convening of a meeting with the company; however, the ministries had been informed about this for weeks, through our complaints,” said the national secretary of the FILT CGIL union, Fabrizio Cuscito. “The liquidation of Air Italy is yet another predatory act committed by foreign corporations. We hope that the justice system will shed light on the management of Air Italy, which squandered all of its resources, even while the workers had to endure yet another painful sacrifice in recent years.
“We will mobilize with every type of union action possible so that jobs would be protected, starting with a national strike for the whole sector on Feb. 25, which will be followed by others if the situation does not improve.”
The FILT CGIL, FIT CISL and UILT unions have put out a unanimous call: “The government must find an immediate solution for Air Italy’s workers. With the liquidation, there are 1,500 workers who we are not sure will have the resources to absorb the shock: the air transport solidarity fund has not had its funding renewed.” ANPAV, the flight attendants’ union, also accused the fact that “this crisis is mainly the result of repeated wrong managerial decisions.”
Minister De Micheli has summoned the two appointed liquidators to a meeting on Wednesday that will also include the Sardinian undersecretary at the Ministry of Economic Development, Alessandra Todde (M5S), and the president of the Italian Civil Aviation Authority, Nicola Zaccheo. “The company’s decision to liquidate the business is an extremely serious one,” said De Micheli.