Ryanair intends to make a firm bid to acquire Alitalia's fleet of jets, chief executive Michael O'Leary has indicated.
Speaking at a press conference in London today, O'Leary said he intended to make a bid for some 90 Alitalia jets by the first week of October, which brings the next phase of the Italian carrier's sale process.
"We would be willing to take on both the short-haul and the long-haul [fleet]," O'Leary says. "One of the aspects of Alitalia that is really attractive is the long-haul fleet, which has the capacity to grow very strongly."
He says that all-Boeing operator Ryanair would not have a problem with adding Airbus aircraft and their crews and engineers, noting: "We bid previously for Aer Lingus three times – they have only Airbus jets. [When] you bid for an airline, it might have Airbus aircraft, but it also has Airbus pilots, Airbus engineers."
O'Leary adds: "We do not have the aircraft to go and replace all of Alitalia's fleet tomorrow, or in one year, or in two years, so we would be very willing to buy Alitalia."
Ryanair will not be bidding for the Alitalia's turboprop fleet, in which O'Leary says his airline has no interest. He admits that the process of acquiring the jets is "complicated" because the majority of Alitalia's fleet is leased not owned.
"The jets are all leased, so we would want those leases, but clearly we want the bankruptcy administrator to restructure the leases," he says.
Flight Fleets Analyzer data lists 103 aircraft in Alitalia's inventory. These comprise 72 Airbus A320-family jets (including two in storage), 14 A330s, 11 Boeing 777-200ERs and four ATR 72-500 turboprops. Just eight of the aircraft are owned by Alitalia: seven A320-family narrowbodies and one 777. The rest are leased.
O'Leary says Ryanair would seek to continue operating the aircraft under Alitalia's "great" brand.
However, O'Leary believes the prospect of Ryanair succeeding in its bid are slim, citing the likelihood that a merger would be blocked under EU competition rules. He estimates that Ryanair has 35% of the Italian aviation market and that a merger with Alitalia would give it 55%.
O'Leary sees it as more likely that Alitalia will be "broken up" and that Ryanair will benefit in terms of air traffic rights and airport slots because "whoever buys them [Alitalia], there will be competition remedies".
Alitalia was put up for sale earlier this year after filing for insolvency protection. Airlines have until 15 September to submit an expression of interest in making a binding bid. The airline's special commissioners will then consider those offers and notify parties that have met the "requirements". Those shortlisted will have until 2 October to submit a binding offer.