Tourism Industry News

Alitalia Canceling Flights To Save Money

17/11/2008 15:33

Striking Alitalia staff have hit back at the airline's management, saying hundreds of flight cancellations over the last week have been due to Alitalia's need to cut costs rather than their own industrial action.


Alitalia has been canceling scores of flights daily since last Sunday, blaming a group of pilots and cabin crew who are up in arms over a takeover by Italian businessmen and have been following a strict "work to rule" protest.


The airline said it would announce in advance the flights to be canceled in the coming week so as to reduce inconvenience for passengers -- a move made necessary by the work to rule and by "a considerable increase in staff off sick."


However, unions representing the pilots said the flight cancellations were unnecessary and were aimed at saving money and making it easier for the CAI investor group to take over the company while trying to turn public opinion against the unions. "It is Alitalia, with the consent of the government, of the relevant authorities and of CAI, which has been indiscriminately canceling flights and creating awful disruption to passengers," the rebel unions said in a statement.


The head of The Pilots' Union, Roberto Spinazzola, was more explicit in an interview on Sunday with La Stampa daily. "Alitalia bookings are down by 30 percent and management is exploiting our work to rule to cut and merge half-empty flights, reduce duplication and costs, and then say to the public that we are to blame," he said.


Alitalia was not available for comment on the unions' allegations. The stream of cancellations slowed over the weekend, but there were still more than 100 flights scrapped to and from Rome and Milan's main airports.


Alitalia's bankruptcy commissioner Augusto Fantozzi said on Sunday the airline owed creditors EUR2.3 billion. "It is disagreeable to note that the most aggressive (in demanding their money back) towards an Italian company in difficulty are Italians themselves," he said in a television interview underscoring Alitalia's plight.


"Alitalia is an insolvent company which is laying off staff, we have debtors that don't pay us, airports that try to seize our planes on the ground, (Italian energy company) ENI that threatens not to let us fly unless we pay for our fuel."


The Italian government, which backs the CAI takeover, has struggled to get protesting workers back in line and has urged public prosecutors to intervene as local television continues to play images of frustrated travelers.


The CAI group of Italian businessmen is proceeding with the takeover -- which foresees it cherry-picking Alitalia's best assets, while leaving the rest to the Italian state -- despite the resistance, and won EU approval for the deal on Wednesday.


CAI has offered EUR275 million euros (USD$343.5 million) for Alitalia's core flight operations, EUR100 million in a mix of cash and debt for its various units, and take on additional debt of EUR625 million.


Once the deal is wrapped up, CAI is expected to choose either Air France-KLM or Lufthansa as a foreign partner to enter the group with a 20 percent stake.




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