ALITALIA HAS opened new talks with its unions, to be overseen by the Italian Government and based on a more conciliatory, four-point, restructuring plan.

Chairman Renato Riverso says that the new plan, which has been approved by the airline's parent, state-holding company IRI, will include a renewed efficiency drive, fleet restructuring, workforce cuts and new strategic alliances.

He has also named Alitalia's new chief executive as Dominico Cempella, a veteran of the Italian airline industry, who ran Aeroporto di Roma after privatisation in 1995.

Alitalia has been without a chief executive since Roberto Schisano was forced out last year as a casualty of the long-running and acrimonious union negotiations.

Unions have given a broad welcome to Cempella's appointment and to the new talks, which were due to begin on 26 February. Details of the fresh plan have yet to be released, but are expected to renew conciliation attempts.

Workforce reductions will avoid compulsory redundancies, and may include around 700 early retirements. Alitalia has already trimmed the workforce by around 2,000, to around 18,000.

The fleet changes will see the exit of "non-competitive" types, which reports in Italy suggest is likely to mean the disposal of ten Airbus A300s. Ten McDonnell Douglas DC-9s are also due to go.

Speculation suggests that the call for strategic alliances could involve the expansion of code-sharing deals with American Airlines, which is tied to Alitalia on cargo, and, possibly, Cathay Pacific.

Riverso says that the aim is to complete the bulk of the restructuring by 1996. The airline is in need of a L1.500 billion ($1 billion) cash injection, but needs to show that it is progressing with its restructuring so that it can attract one-third of the cash from private investors, thus avoiding European Commission state-aid restrictions.

Source: Flight International