Alitalia unveils facelift after Etihad investment

The Italian airline Alitalia is getting a facelift. The carrier, which is part-owned by Etihad Airways, unveiled a new livery, brand and product upgrades as it looks to return to profitability by 2017.

Etihad has invested €560 million (Dh2.3 billion) to acquire a 49 per cent stake in New Alitalia, a 75 per cent interest in Alitalia Loyalty – which operates the MilleMiglia frequent flier scheme – and the future purchase of five pairs of London Heathrow Airport slots for leaseback to Alitalia.

Etihad has gained a reputation for turning around struggling airlines in which it invests. It refers to Alitalia as its flagship investment.


For instance, Etihad rejuvenated the fortunes of Air Seychelles, in which it owns a minority stake. In March, the Indian Ocean carrier reported a net profit of US$3.2 million for last year, up from $3m in 2013. It was the airline’s third profitable year in a row, thanks in part to Etihad’s aid.

Alitalia and Etihad said that they would be introducing service upgrades to Alitalia’s business, premium economy and economy cabins.

The upgrades will include changes to the cabin decor, redesigning of seats and updating the in-flight entertainment system and internet connectivity on the long-haul fleet.

For Alitalia’s cabin crew and ground staff, Etihad will offer training in Abu Dhabi. To date, 1,000 Alitalia employees have completed their training and another 4,500 are expected to be trained before the year end.

“The old Alitalia was a great brand but a challenged business,” said James Hogan, Etihad’s president and chief executive. “Now we are well on the way to seeing the rebirth of this iconic airline in a new era of commercial success.”

Alitalia’s 46-year-old livery also received a facelift in the latest image overhaul.

“The green band will disappear from the fuselage for the first time. At the core of the new livery is a larger tricolour A tail fin, which serves as a powerful representation of the Italian flag,” said Alitalia.

“A more modern typeface and non-Italic style conveys the confidence and assertiveness of the new Alitalia.”

Alitalia’s new aircraft changes will be introduced through its widebody Airbus A330-200 aircraft, which will come into service this week.

From July 1, all of Alitalia’s widebody international aircraft will be retrofitted with the upgrades. The narrow-body fleet will be retrofitted at a later stage.

Since Etihad’s investment in Alitalia, the Italian carrier has completely changed its management.

Some Etihad executives have also joined the airline. Mr Hogan is now a vice chairman at Alitalia, while Duncan Naysmith, Etihad’s vice president of financial reporting, has become Alitalia’s new chief financial officer. John Shepley was appointed as chief planning and strategy officer, while Aubrey Tiedt, Etihad’s former head of guest services, is now Alitalia’s chief customer officer.

Alitalia approached Etihad for a financial lifeline in 2013 after its major shareholders, including Air France-KLM, refused to provide more capital and reduced their holding to 7 per cent from 20 per cent.

Alitalia had suffered decades of losses and several bailouts from governments while facing tough competition from budget carriers and the development of high-speed rail in Europe.

selgazzar@thenational.ae

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