IAG denounces Alitalia rescue plans as illegal

INTERNATIONAL Airlines Group yesterday denounced Italian plans to rescue Alitalia as illegal, as shareholders were due to vote on a capital increase to keep the near-bankrupt flag carrier flying.

IAG, which owns British Airways and Spanish airline Iberia, urged the European Commission to intervene over the Italian government’s attempts to stitch together a bailout for Alitalia.

A €300m (£254.5m) capital increase forms a major part of the rescue, which aims to keep Alitalia alive while it works out how to ensure its long-term survival, but the participation of its top investor Air France-KLM remains far from certain.

IAG said the rescue breaks European Union rules. “We have always been opposed to state aid,” said a spokeswoman for IAG, Europe’s third biggest airline group by market value.

“It’s protectionist, undermines competition and favours failing airlines that have not got to grips with economic reality... We would urge and expect the EU Commission to take interim measures to suspend this manifestly illegal aid,” she added.

In Brussels, the Commission said it expected Italian authorities to inform it of the plan. “Only after receiving the notification will we be able to assess its compatibility with EU state aid rules,” stated Antoine Colombani, Commission spokesman for competition policy.

Alitalia, which last turned a profit a decade ago, was thrown a lifeline on Friday when its board members – including Air France-KLM – approved the government-led €500m bailout. The emergency plan includes the capital increase and loans worth €200m.

However, all shareholders have 30 days to decide how much money to sink into the issue of new shares. Even if they supported yesterday’s vote, they remain under no obligation to take part later in the cash call.

Alitalia is valued at between €0 and €150m, according to a study by investment bank Credit Suisse.