With Alitalia's future remaining unclear, airlines are starting to hone in on the Italian market
As uncertainty over Alitalia's future continues to loom large, other carriers are beginning to boost their presence and make changes to the way they operate in the Italian market.
After talks over a potential acquisition of Alitalia by Air France-KLM collapsed, the Italian government in May threw the drowning carrier another life belt in the form of a €300 million ($480 million) bridging loan, and newly-elected prime minister Silvio Berlusconi made it clear that he wants a group of Italian investors to take the reigns. As the government began searching for Italian investors, Alitalia widened its first quarter losses by 41% to €215 million for the first quarter, as revenues dropped 5% to €954 million due to reduced capacity.
"Malpensa ismore in line with our positioning"
Country manager Italy,Air Berlin
Airlines are "looking closely" at the Alitalia situation, which will lead to "lots of changes in the Italian market in the next year", says Marco Fontana, Air Berlin
's country manager for Italy. Air Berlin plans to transfer in mid-June its northern Italy flights from Bergamo's Orio al Serio Airport to Milan Malpensa
. Fontana says there are "several reasons" for this decision, the main one being that Malpensa is "located in a larger catchment area".
He adds: "Malpensa is more in line with our positioning. Bergamo is considered a low-cost airport and Air Berlin is going through several changes. Following the LTU acquisition we are moving more towards a standard airline model, so we're targeting more business passengers."
Malpensa was left reeling by Alitalia's decision to drastically cut the number of flights it operates from the airport to focus its energy on Rome Fiumicino. In May Malpensa had 26% fewer frequencies and 24% fewer seats than the same period last year. But there are signs that Malpensa is attracting other carriers to fill the void.
Fontana says the airport's operator SEA "has offered a special rate for advertising and helped us inform the market of this change", but adds that no further incentives were offered. Air Berlin was already planning to move to Malpensa, but Fontana says: "Alitalia's decision to de-hub there helped us take the decision."
SEA has also signed a memorandum of understanding with Lufthansa, under which the German carrier's Italian subsidiary, Verona-based Air Dolomiti, will base six Embraer 195s at Malpensa from 2009 to deploy on intra-European routes. Few details have been disclosed on the nature of the MoU, but Lufthansa says "part of our philosophy is to ensure our passengers have exclusive check-in areas and lounges and easy access to the aircraft".
The carrier adds: "Italy is one of Lufthansa's top three markets globally, therefore our interest in Italy is quite strong. We will set up a product which is tailored to the local needs of the Milan market, but based on our expectations and market research and not linked to the decisions of our competition." Air Dolomiti now operates 78 flights per week at Malpensa (see chart) and Lufthansa says it will be able to add 150 flights when it opens the E-195 base in 2009.
SEA president Giuseppe Bonomi says of the MoU: "The agreement with Lufthansa confirms the fact that SEA is willing to work in close connection with those who believe in the development of Malpensa." SEA says that following Alitalia's decision to cut back its operations at Malpensa, the airport operator hopes within two years to "bring back Malpensa to the same level of traffic it had in 2007".
Italy's Air One, which has been linked with a potential takeover bid for Alitalia, also unveiled plans earlier this year to open a number of new flights from Malpensa, including its first long-haul routes to the US cities of Boston and Chicago. It plans to begin the US flights in June along with new flights to Berlin, Brussels, Athens and Thessaloniki.
Air One believes there are growth opportunities at Malpensa, pointing out that an improvement in transport links to the airport is expected to triple the amount of people living within two hours of it by 2012.
Why was Milan Malpensa never a success for Alitalia? flightglobal.com/malpensa