MILAN (AP) — The parent group of MSC Cruises is partnering with Lufthansa in a bid for a majority stake in Italy’s ITA Airways, the company created from the ashes of former Italian flagship airline Alitalia.
MSC Group, which includes container shipping and logistics businesses in addition to cruises, said in a statement late Monday that the deal would leverage synergies in both passenger and cargo, and that Lufthansa has already shown interest in the deal.
The companies have requested that the Italian government, which currently controls ITA Airways, grant a 90-day period for exclusive talks and due diligence. Lufthansa said it would use the 90-day period to “explore all possible options for cooperation, including a possible equity investment.”
ITA Airways chairman Alfredo Altavilla welcomed the show of interest, telling Germany's Handelsblatt financial daily it demonstrated “strategic skill.”
"Let's hope that the conditions are maintained until the end of this adventure," he said.
Altavilla also said he also saw synergies with cargo, which is one of the most profitable parts of the business.
ITA Airways has been looking for an industrial partner, and a successful conclusion to the MSC-Lufthansa operation could secure the future for the airline that succeeds long-struggling Alitalia.
ITA, or Italy Air Transport, officially launched last October after bankrupt flag carrier Alitalia landed its final flight, ending a 74-year business history with a series of inglorious business deals that never managed to restore the carrier to health.
At one point, former Premier Silvio Berlusconi nixed a bid by KLM-Air France to buy Alitalia, citing its importance as a strategic asset, only to hand it over to a group of reluctant Italian investors, who eventually sold a 49-percent share to Abu Dhabi Etihad in 2014. By 2017, Alitalia was in its second bankruptcy in a decade.
Airline analyst Gregory Alegi said the MSC-Lufthansa deal could secure ITA Airways' future after long years of turbulence.
“Lufthansa looks like a solid airline-centered business,'' Alegi said. ”It has been running airlines for almost 100 years, it is a very efficient well-run company, and all the indications are that it would run on an industrial and not a political basis. If that holds, it would be the end of the saga."
He added that the MSC partnership “seems to hit at a business model oriented toward leisure traffic.”
Already, Lufthansa operates Air Dolomiti in northern Italy, which funnels long distance traffic from airports such as Milan's Malpensa, Verona's Valerio Catullo and Venice's Marco Polo to connections in Munich and Frankfurt.
ITA has 52 planes that it says will grow to 105 and is pointing to next-generation aircraft that use sustainable, alternative fuel sources.
The company launched with 2,800 employees — 70% of them from Alitalia — and said it expects to increase the size of its workforce to 5,750 by 2025.