Cruise giant MSC thinks it might be the answer to help save Alitalia’s successor

Jan 25, 2022

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ITA Airways could soon have new owners — along with a very familiar name.

The Italian airline on Monday said that it had received an “expression of interest” from Lufthansa Group and shipping and cruise giant MSC to acquire a majority of ITA (short for Italia Trasporto Aereo), the successor of Alitalia.

Lufthansa has long had an interest in Italian aviation. From 2009 to 2011, it operated Italian airline Lufthansa Italia out of Milan-Malpensa Airport (MXP). It currently owns all of Air Dolomiti, an Italian regional airline based out of Verona (VRN). Lufthansa is a founding member of the Star Alliance and its largest airline in Europe, while ITA just joined SkyTeam to replace Alitalia. It’s unclear what would happen should this deal close, and a number of hurdles remain before that could happen.

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First, though, it’s the interest from the cruise and shipping magnate MSC in Alitalia successor ITA that adds yet another wrinkle to the tortured history of the perennially loss-making Italian brand.

Although MSC is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, it’s privately owned by an Italian family and has Italian roots, with most of its vessels sporting Italian names. Acquiring a stake in ITA would allow the line to not only expand its business but to offer cruise and flight packages that cut out the middleman.

As for Alitalia, its dysfunction over the years has allowed European low-cost and ultra-low-cost carriers to move in. Ryanair is now by far the largest airline in Italy, with EasyJet and Wizz Air also having a significant presence throughout the Mediterranean country, according to Cirium schedules data. In 2018, Qatar Airways-backed Air Italy looked to make a splash with both domestic and international flights, but it folded in early 2020.

Now, would-be partners Lufthansa and MSC have requested a 90-day exclusivity period to conduct due diligence and work on a deal, according to the airline. Any deal would keep the Italian government as a minority stakeholder.

If the deal is successful, there’s a chance these partners might actually be acquiring Alitalia — possibly back from the dead yet again with Italian press reports suggesting ITA might reverse course and revive the brand after all.

It’s OK to be a little confused with the situation.

First, though, a recap: Bankrupt Alitalia ceased operations last October, with ITA taking its place as the state-owned successor after Alitalia’s last flight. At the time, ITA made it clear that that the new airline was going to be known as ITA. However, it then purchased the Alitalia brand at auction for €90 million — a significant markdown from the original asking price of €290 million. The airline at the time said that it was purchasing the brand to ensure no one else would purchase and use it.

ROME, ITALY - 2021/12/02: Pope Francis seen climbing the steps of the plane, during the event. Pope Francis left for the Apostolic Journey to Cyprus and Greece from the International Leonardo Da Vinci Airport in Fiumicino, Rome. Pope Francis flies for the first time with the new Italian airline ‘ITA Airways’, the plane sports the livery of the new company that bears the inscription on the fuselage with the words ‘Born in 2021’ to celebrate the start of flight operations , which took place on 15 October 2021. (Photo by Stefano Costantino/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
The ghost of Alitalia is still very much present, despite the airline being called ITA. Pope Francis was photographed boarding an ITA aircraft in December using Alitalia-branded air stairs and being greeted by crew wearing Alitalia uniforms. (Photo by Stefano Costantino/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The ghost of Alitalia is still present, with a significant portion of its fleet still sporting the Alitalia livery and its crews still sporting Alitalia uniforms. When the airline launched, 70% of its staff came from Alitalia. ITA has slowly begun to establish its own identity and is painting its planes in ITA’s new livery. It also recently took Alitalia’s place in the SkyTeam alliance.

More: Alitalia stops selling tickets, prepares to shut down and be replaced

But Alitalia might never fully go away. The next of Alitalia’s seemingly endless supply of lives might be about to dawn, according to one recent report from Italy.

ITA’s board of directors will make a decision on Jan. 31 about bringing the Alitalia brand back, according to Italy’s Corriere Della Serra newspaper. It’s unclear how the brand will be used, but sources told the newspaper it might be used as a division of ITA for the airline’s intercontinental or domestic/intra-European flights. Details are scant beyond that, but our money is on a comeback because that’s always how it’s gone with Alitalia. Viva Alitalia?

Additional reporting by Ashley Kosciolek.

Featured photo by Massimo Insabato/Archivio Massimo Insabato/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images.

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