Alitalia is attempting to return its five leased Fokker 70s to the bankrupt Fokker operation, after failing in a bid to re-lease them to low-cost Italian regional carrier Alpi Eagles.

The two airlines concluded a codeshare deal late in 1996 which included the transfer of the Fokker 70s. Although the marketing arrangement continues, the aircraft side of the deal has fallen through. Alpi is now running a fleet of Fokker 100s.

According to airline sources, Fokker is showing "little interest" in helping Alitalia. They say that "-they are on a long-term lease and we have received no notification of any change in that". Three of the aircraft are owned by Fokker, the remaining two by Daimler-Benz Aerospace which, through its Debis financial arm, is handling the day-to-day leasing operation of Fokker 50s, 70s and 100s in the field.

Alitalia had originally ordered 15 Fokker 70s, but leased only five after pilots unions objected to the pay differentials between Fokker 70 pilots (who came from former Alitalia regional, Avianova) and those from the flag carrier flying McDonnell Douglas DC-9s.The Italian airline will use existing capacity to replace the Fokker 70s once it finds another home for the aircraft.

Fokker says that Alitalia should continue looking for secondary lease opportunities for the five aircraft. "The market for 70-seat jets is hardening," it says.

Meanwhile, the Fokker receiver is in further negotiations on a possible bid from a European consortium which might enable the manufacturer to remain in business. Dutch sources say that the talks are with a "non-aviation" grouping, and may involve an "overseas" partner as well.

Discussions with the South Korean manufacturer Samsung Industries collapsed late in 1996.

Meridiana Express, the new low-cost division of Italy's largest private airline, has launched services. With a lower wage base than that of parent Meridiana, the new division will ultimately be expanded to replace the existing airline. Six McDonnell Douglas MD-80s originally destined for Meridiana are being transferred to the new airline, while the six DC-9/51s now operated by the parent airline will be retired without replacement when they fall foul of new noise limitations. The low-cost carrier may also receive eight more new aircraft planned for Meridiana in an earlier fleet-expansion plan.

Source: Flight International