Air France-KLM defers decision on help for Alitalia

Mon Sep 23, 2013 4:56pm EDT
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By Matthias Blamont and Tim Hepher

PARIS (Reuters) - Air France-KLM (AIRF.PA: Quote) deferred a decision on whether to offer more help for struggling Alitalia CAITLA.UL on Monday, saying it needed more information about its Italian partner's finances.

Air France-KLM said a board meeting - held hours after Italy opened the door to a takeover by inviting the Franco-Dutch carrier to double its 25 percent stake - had discussed its own management's view of loss-making Alitalia's predicament.

"The board considered it vital to hear the information that Alitalia's executive management should provide at a forthcoming meeting of the Italian company's board of directors," Air France-KLM said in a statement afterwards.

Alitalia's board is due to meet on Thursday.

The terse declaration dampened speculation of an imminent Franco-Dutch bid for Alitalia, which faces an estimated cash shortfall of some 400 million euros ($540 million).

Italian Transport Minister Maurizio Lupi said earlier that Rome would not oppose an increase in Air France-KLM's stake to 50 percent.

"I expect that Air France will strongly reaffirm that Alitalia is a strategic asset for Air France, and therefore that there will be a strengthening of Air France's role," he said on the sidelines of a conference in Milan.

"We ask that Air France does not consider Alitalia and (Rome airport) Fiumicino as an appendix, but a strategic asset for the development of European air transport."   Continued...

An Alitalia plane passes an Air France plane on the tarmac of Charles de Gaulles International Airport in Roissy near Paris, January 8, 2013. REUTERS/Charles Platiau