Etihad Airways has confirmed it is undertaking due diligence with a view to taking a stake in Alitalia, but cautions that such an equity investment remains the subject only of “desktop study” for now.
“It's very early days,” says the Abu Dhabi carrier's president and chief executive James Hogan. “It would be inappropriate for me to discuss what may or may not happen.”
He does, however, note that Etihad already has “a very strong codeshare relationship” with the Italian flag carrier, which operates from Rome to Abu Dhabi. Etihad itself intends to serve the Italian capital from the second half of this year. “Our key partner at Rome airport is Alitalia,” says Hogan.
Struggling Alitalia, which secured much-needed breathing space by completing a €300 million ($410 million) capital increase in December, is looking to attract a new strategic investor and the highly active Gulf carrier has emerged as a prime candidate. Etihad already holds stakes in a series of carriers as part of equity alliance strategy, including European operators Aer Lingus, Air Berlin, Air Serbia and Darwin Airline. It also has a wide-ranging codeshare with existing Alitalia partner, Air France-KLM.
Hogan was speaking in Zurich at the brand launch for Etihad Regional – operated by Swiss carrier Darwin Airline, which fulfills some public service obligation routes for Alitalia.