Etihad examines Alitalia's books, mulls investment: sources

Wed Dec 11, 2013 12:03pm EST
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By Stephen Jewkes and Stanley Carvalho

MILAN/ABU DHABI (Reuters) - Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways is examining Alitalia's books and is expected to decide by Christmas whether to take a stake in the troubled Italian airline, two sources familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

Alitalia offers access to Europe's fourth-largest travel market and flies 25 million passengers a year. But the airline, which loses 700,000 euros a day and has net debt of more than 800 million euros, needs to find a partner willing to invest in its fleet and make it profitable in the longer term.

"Etihad has been in (Alitalia's) data room as of some ten days and will complete the process by the end of this week," one source said. Etihad is expected to decide on whether to buy a stake in Alitalia "just before Christmas", the source added.

Etihad and Alitalia declined to comment.

Alitalia has just raised 300 million euros ($413 million) which analysts said would keep the carrier flying for the next six months while it searches for an investor.

Not being a European carrier, Etihad can only take a stake of up to 49 percent in Rome-based Alitalia. Analysts said Etihad would likely be interested in a shareholding of at least 25 percent to have enough management and strategic influence.

The two airlines had been linked in media reports earlier this year but Etihad said at the time there were no talks beyond those on code sharing. Speculation of a tie-up began again in recent weeks.

"An Etihad-led team is looking at numbers of Alitalia and this is not the first time it has done so," a second source close to Etihad said, adding the two airlines already had strong commercial links by jointly operating flights between Abu Dhabi and the Italian cities of Rome and Milan.   Continued...