Alitalia rescue weeks away as Delta Air Lines, Atlantia line up to bid

Alitalia’s rescue by Italy’s state-owned railway and investors including US carrier Delta Air Lines may still be weeks away despite a looming deadline for offers for the loss-plagued carrier, people familiar with the matter said.

Ferrovie dello Stato is set to tell the carrier on Monday that its rescue plan has attracted potential investors, including Delta and Atlantia, the people said.

Atlantia, the Benetton family’s industrial arm that operates Rome’s airports, on Sunday confirmed its interest to Ferrovie’s adviser Mediobanca, but said it may want changes to the rescue designed by the state-controlled railroad, the people said.

Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio, who is leading the latest effort to save the flagship carrier, has been forced to relax the government’s Monday deadline for binding offers and will now accept an expression of interest, according to an official in Di Maio’s economic development ministry.

Ferrovie and Atlantia declined to comment. Delta confirmed its interest in becoming a minority shareholder.

Alitalia has been under special administration for more than two years and now faces either liquidation or de-facto nationalisation. The airline loses about 700,000 euros ($789,000) a day and has hasn’t posted profit for at least 15 years. The total burden to taxpayers has run to 10 billion euros since 2008, according to estimates by Andrea Giuricin, a professor at Milan Bicocca University.

“We should stop a new nationalisation,” said Giuricin, who owns an advisory firm that once worked for Alitalia and recently distributed an online petition against more state intervention.

The board of directors of Atlantia on July 11 gave chief executive office Giovanni Castellucci a mandate to evaluate Alitalia’s rescue plan. Atlantia invested in two previous Alitalia bailouts that failed to revive the airline.

The current rescue comes at a time when Atlantia’s relations with the government are strained over the collapse last year of a bridge it managed in Genoa. Forty three people were killed and the tragedy prompted threats by the government to revoke Atlantia’s roadway concessions.

The Ferrovie offer may also be supported by the Toto Group, a company with holdings that spans from renewable energy to toll-road concessions that is controlled by Italian entrepreneur Carlo Toto, the people said.

Adviser Mediobanca received expressions of interest Sunday from Atlantia and Toto, as well as from former Avianca executive German Efromovich and Lazio Chairman Carlo Lotito, the people said.

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