Andy Nativi/GENOA

Italian regional Meridiana, the country's second largest carrier, is up for sale following a decision by the Aga Khan to dispose of his 79% holding. A sale had been under consideration for several years, although initially only a small stake was to be offered.

Several European airlines are expected to bid for Sardinia-based Meridiana, which has 15% of the Italian domestic market and a foothold in Florence. Air France is a likely contender, with Lufthansa and British Airways expected to show an interest, although the latter is close to launching its National Jets Italia regional operation.

Dutch flag carrier KLM could also bid. Last year it held talks with Meridiana rival AirOne and its close ally, Alitalia, is unable to bid because of conditions imposed by the European Commission in connection with state aid grants. Other Italian airlines, including expansion-minded Volare - part-owned by the SAirGroup - may also become involved.

Meridiana had sales of L630 billion ($330 million) last year, up marginally on 1998, and carried more than 3 million passengers. It made an operating loss of L26 billion, but recorded a small net profit through the sale of six McDonnell Douglas DC-9-50s. It employs 1,700 people and has a fleet of 17 Boeing MD-82s and four British Aerospace 146-200s.

Of the remaining shares, the workforce owns 16.5%, with minority stakes held by the Cariplo bank (3%) and other investors.

Source: Flight International