Alitalia, once the carrier of the jet set, is flying for the last time

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Alitalia, the airline that symbolized Italy’s post-war boom and dolce vita for years, flew its last flight on Thursday after the Covid-19 pandemic struck a blow to a company that had been supported by the country’s governments for years.

The 75-year-old national airline – which was the third largest in Europe after British Airways and Air France in the late 1960s – has been in an Italian version of bankruptcy protection since 2017. She hasn’t made an annual profit in two decades. that has long faced competition from low-cost airlines and its own expensive and strike-prone workforce. These problems lasted almost to the end: a strike this week resulted in the cancellation of more than 100 flights.

Founded shortly after World War II, it became the unofficial carrier of a newly emerging jet set between the US and Europe. In particular, it guided Italian and American movie stars back and forth between Hollywood and Italian film sets. Alitalia’s heyday coincided with the romanticization of the “sweet life” of Rome in films such as Federico Fellini’s 1960 “La Dolce Vita”. One of the illustrious aviators was Sophia Loren, who once advertised the airline.

It has also been used as the airline of choice by a number of Popes: Alitalia’s distinctive green and red tail fin colors have served as the backdrop for papal airport arrivals around the world. Pope Francis flew with Alitalia from Rome to Hungary and then on to Slovakia last month.

Alitalia has never adapted to the massive deregulation of the aviation industry, which has resulted in consolidation among major airlines and the emergence of low-cost airlines, analysts said. Ever faster trains also opened up the airline’s lucrative domestic market. Despite all these headwinds, the Italian government acted as the investor of last resort, having recently stepped in with a series of bailouts and attempts to find new partners.

According to Andrea Giuricin, professor of economics at Milan University of Bicocca and managing director of TRA Consulting, the Italian government has invested more than 10 billion euros, or about 11.6 billion US dollars, in Alitalia since 2008. Alitalia declined to comment on the estimate.

To turn the airline around, Etihad Airways of Abu Dhabi, once a major shareholder, introduced training in 2016 to help flight attendants be more cordial. The airline refurbished airport lounges with mixed mixes of coffee and pizza ovens and introduced new uniforms.

In 2012, Alitalia carried 25 million passengers, about 17% of the Italian market and roughly on a par with Ryanair Holdings PLC, Europe’s largest low-cost airline. By 2019, Ryanair carried almost twice as many passengers as Alitalia in Italy.

The last blow was dealt the coronavirus pandemic, which paralyzed air traffic for months. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi defied government demands to intervene again to save the airline.

Some of Alitalia’s assets, including 52 planes and most of its airport slots, as well as about a quarter of its employees, were taken over by a new airline that made its maiden flight on Friday. Italia Trasporto Aereo is wholly owned by the Italian government after an investment of 720 million euros.

ITA bought the Alitalia brand for € 90 million and will use it during a transition period, but the historic name will eventually disappear, ITA chairman Alfredo Altavilla said on Friday. ITA also wanted to buy the Alitalia brand to make sure it wasn’t taken over by a competitor, he said.

The last Alitalia flight – from Cagliari in Sardinia to Rome – landed shortly after 11 p.m. local time on Thursday. The Pope has not yet said whether ITA will be its first airline.

This story was posted through a news agency feed with no changes to the text

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