Italy should quickly nationalise Alitalia, airline's administrator says

MILAN, Oct 7 (Reuters) - Alitalia’s state-appointed administrator urged the Italian government to rush to nationalise the carrier, which has seen sales fall 70% in the first nine months of the year amid the coronavirus crisis.

Speaking to Italian lawmakers in parliament, Giuseppe Leogrande, appointed by the state last December, said setting up a new state-controlled company that would house Alitalia’s assets was necessary to keep the airline afloat.

“I appeal (to the government) to implement as soon as possible the plan it (envisaged in its May) decree, to ensure the carrier’s business continuity,” Leogrande said.

Rome set aside 3 billion euros ($3.53 billion) in May to inject into a new company that was meant to be created by early June to take control of Alitalia.

But the plan has stalled and the airline was forced to resort to short-term planning to get through the coronavirus crisis, Leogrande said.

Political wrangling over board appointments for the new company is hampering the launch of the airline, two sources have told Reuters.

While waiting for state intervention, Leogrande has filed a request to extend a temporary layoff scheme for nearly 7,000 Alitalia employees to September 2021 from an initial deadline of the end of this month.

He also obtained nearly 200 million euros in aid to weather the pandemic and asked for an additional 150 million euros to keep the carrier operational in the coming months.

“As of end-September the carrier had 260 million euros in cash,” he said.

Between January and September, Alitalia reported revenue of 716 million euros, down from 2.4 billion euros in the same period last year. Leogrande said demand for national and international flights was down 50% and nearly 80%, respectively.

As part of initiatives to tackle the pandemic, Alitalia has launched flights between Rome and Milan limited to passengers who undergo COVID-testing prior to boarding and return a negative result. It is now considering launching the same initiative for some intercontinental routes such as New York or Tokyo, Leogrande said. ($1 = 0.8498 euros) (Reporting by Francesca Landini; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)