It could take up to six months before normality is restored for airlines flying to Milan's new Malpensa airport, despite claims by the hub's owner, SEA, that normality will be restored by the year-end.

The opening was marked by chaos, with long delays and an unintentional recoating of airline landing wheels with runway surfacing material.

Further problems are on the horizon, with non-Italian airlines being forced to move the remainder of their flights from Linate, the closure of which will coincide with the start of a train service to Malpensa in mid-1999.

British Airways says: "The airport is saying two weeks, but it will take up to six months for the airport to run perfectly." BA believes there may be a way of avoiding the shift of at least some of the remaining 34% of flights - as prescribed by the Italian Government's final compromise ruling - if Linate is kept open as a "city airport" for point-to-point traffic, along the lines of London City Airport.

Because of the move of transatlantic traffic to Malpensa, BA is losing a large amount of connecting business, it says.

Alitalia is moving ahead with its alliance with KLM. Details of the partnership were due to be announced by the end of November, but the two carriers are pushing on with a cargo tie-up and cooperation on routes to southern Africa and Australia.

The partners will begin jointly operating six times weekly flights to Sydney via Changi Singapore, three out of Amsterdam Schiphol and three from Malpensa. They will also operate jointly 13 weekly services to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Harare.

"Many more joint initiatives are to come," says Alitalia, while a senior KLM source adds: "Further announcements will be made on our cooperation with Alitalia."

Once details of the KLM-Alitalia alliance are worked out, the two European partners and their US counterparts, Continental and Northwest, will talk, he says.

KLM and Alitalia will be looking nervously at events in the US where the Northwest-Continental tie up has been challenged in the courts before the equity investment of Northwest in Continental.

They are also still waiting for the European Commission to publish anti-trust immunity for its transatlantic alliance, due this November. However, the workload associated with the AA-BA alliance has led to delays, say sources at the Commission's competition division DGIV.

Source: Airline Business