Gilbert Thomas/ROME

Alitalia is to be run by a senior manager plucked from the state-run railway system following the resignation of chief executive Domenico Cempella. Francesco Mengozzi was previously finance director at Ferrovie dello Stato, where he was credited with its successful restructuring.


Cempella, 63, who was Alitalia CEO for five years, is believed to have stood down after the government unilaterally revived the search for an ally for the airline. Rome has apparently resumed talks with KLM, with which negotiations collapsed last year, while Cempella is thought to have favoured a deal with Air France.

Having turned round the state railway, Mengozzi, 52, may be well suited to addressing Alitalia's financial woes - its debts doubled in the first nine months of 2000 to c1 billion ($943 million), - but some observers believe aviation experience limited to links with Aeroporti di Roma may not be enough to prepare him for theprivatisation of the flag-carrier and its search for an international alliance.

Treasury minister Vincenzo Visco said last week that Alitalia had had "contacts at 360 degrees", hinting that the search for a European partner, called off in December in favour of a purely US tie-up, is on again.

Former transport minister Tiziano Treu says Mengozzi should be able to overcome "the lack of feeling" between Cempella and KLM.

The other possible partner for Alitalia is SwissAirGroup's Swissair, itself deep in crisis, and apparently the subject of an approach by British Airways, which itself attempted a merger with KLM after the Dutch carrier split from Alitalia.

Cempella has blamed his failure on the uncertainty surrounding the opening of Milan Malpensa airport, including a two-year row with the European Commission and EC restrictions imposed on Alitalia following its 1996-2000recapitalisation.

The European Court of Justice recently ruled that the injection did not come under EU state aid rules and should not have prompted restrictions on capacity and pricing. The airline is expected to sue for damages.

Alitalia chairman Fausto Cereti told Flight International that the Italian Government wants to go ahead with the privatisation, but said that under Italian law a "service company" must present an operational plan beforehand. In Alitalia's case this means its alliance situation will have to be resolved.

Source: Flight International