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  • OPINION: Alitalia and Piaggio must answer compelling question

OPINION: Alitalia and Piaggio must answer compelling question

On the face of it, beyond the simple fact that both companies are Italian – and in administration – there seems little to link flag carrier Alitalia with ­airframer Piaggio Aerospace.

One has a multi-billion euro turnover with thousands of employees, links across the globe and patronage from the Pope, and the other is a small aircraft manufacturing operation in the north of Italy.

Alitalia can trace its genesis to the period immediately after the Second World War, while the original Piaggio has a storied 100-year history.

However, it is germane to point out that neither company is the same legal entity that began operations, each having been through several changes of structure and ownership along the way.

Indeed, both firms were kept afloat in their latter stages by money from the United Arab Emirates in the form of Etihad Airways (Alitalia) and Mubadala (Piaggio).

Yet there is one other key similarity: both have lost their way, and neither has produced a convincing r­eason for their continued existence.

Through its multiple iterations, Alitalia has seen its short-haul market share continually eroded by the steady incursion of low-cost airlines into Italy.

Its intercontinental links, particularly to the USA, are still considered valuable, but given the rise of long-haul, low-cost operators, for how much longer? It seems to be an airline that, unlike its European contemporaries, stubbornly refused to change as the commercial landscape around it shifted.

Meanwhile, Piaggio has been making aircraft that no-one wants. The P180 Avanti has a certain kind of beauty, but customers have dried up.

Attempts to diversify by turning the Avanti into an unmanned surveillance asset also appear to have been doomed to failure.

Neither the UAE nor the Italian military wanted the HammerHead, and funding a second-generation version when the first had failed to sell was arguably a case of throwing good money after bad.

If nothing else, what is clear from the whole sorry debacle is that simply being part of a country’s aviation heritage does not guarantee your future in the 21st century.

To put it bluntly: what is the point of Alitalia or ­Piaggio? Unless either company can come up with a clear and comprehensive answer, then the future will remain bleak for them both.

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