Air Blu resurrects AzzurraAir

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Italian authorities have transferred the suspended licence of failed carrier AzzurraAir to Air Blu, giving it the green light to relaunch the Milan-based airline on 3 June.

The recent decision by a tribunal at Busto Arsizio will now allow Air Blu to train, certify or recertify both ex-AzzurraAir crews and ground staff in a bid to reactivate the airline’s air operator’s certificate (AOC) which was suspended by Italian civil aviation administration ENAC.

AzzurraAir operated flights from Italy to European destinations until it suspended operations in March 2004 when its BAE Systems Avro RJ fleet was withdrawn by lessor and co-owner Air Malta. ENAC also froze its licence, certification and slots.

Air Blu which is based at Ronchi-Trieste says its strategic objective is to create a transalpine network for cargo and civilian traffic in an effort to exploit Trieste and Milan’s strategic position at the crossroads of three European intermodal transport corridors.

Air Blu president and CEO Alberto Denzler helped establish AzzurraAir in December 1995 together with Air Malta and merchant bank Mediocredito Centrale before exiting in November 1998.

“We now have the chance to relaunch the company,” Denzler tells ATI who says the agreement struck with the tribunal is initially for a six-month lease with an option to buy. He adds that a combination of financing sources ranging from family-owned businesses to banks and other operators means he has €20 million to invest in Azzurra’s future.

He foresees two specific roles for the two airlines: Air Blu will have the commercial and co-ordinating responsibility to “feed” Azzurra business in terms of back-to-back contracts.

“Air Blu has never been interested in being a licensed carrier,” he says. “Its main aim was always to do network management and, for the last two-and-a-half years, we have leased capacity from failing airlines such as Air Littoral, Gandalf and Minerva.

“There have, in fact, been 22 business failures in Italian commercial aviation and the main reason why they failed is that they were far too small. That’s the main difference with Azzurra which operated 13 aircraft.”

AzzurraAir – which is being renamed AzzurraAir Airlines for legal reasons – will relaunch from Milan Malpensa Airport with Avro RJs on 3 June through a Mediterranean tour operator contract to Sardinia, Palma de Mallorca and Ibiza.

“This is simply in order to reactivate the licence. On 3 November the real programme starts with back-to-back contracts from other operators, a virtual operation where they provide the branding, local marketing and communications and we provide the  capacity and pick up the bill for the globalisation,” says Denzler.

The Air Blu CEO has also upgraded his projected fleet requirements and says that, by the end of the year, Azzurra should be operating up to five aircraft – either ATRs, Airbus A319s or even A330s.

 “The Italian industry has, in the last three months, gone haywire,” he says. “Airlines increasingly look as though they will be stranded if they don’t get more capacity. We are going to build Azzurra on a modular basis and fleet decisions will be made depending on demand and on-going negotiations with suppliers.”

As part of the strategic vision, the role of Trieste, the home base of Air Blu, will become focused on cargo operations. “With its strategic position, it has to become a specialised gateway, a way of opening up to new markets,” says Denzler.

Air Blu has already started the process to re-employ around 50 ex-Minerva Airlines staff who will be requalified and re-certificated, with the cost borne principally by the regional government of Friuli Venezia Giulia.

Italian regional operator Minerva suspended its scheduled services in October 2003. It operated principally from the three Italian cities of Trieste, Genoa and Naples on frequent services to destinations such as Milan and Perugia, operating a fleet of seven Dornier 328 turboprops.

“This is essentially being funded by the Italian dole. The only way out of this miserable situation of what happens to skilled people when an airline fails is to have a pool of certified staff who can be virtual, that is, able to be transferred between airlines,” says Denzler.