Alitalia may divest its regional subsidiary first

Alitalia chairman Maurizio Prato is considering selling the embattled airline's loss-making regional unit Alitalia Express, Milan daily Finanza & Mercati said in a report. Potential buyers being named were Air Alps and charter carrier ItAli.

Prato was appointed on by the government to find industrial and business partners to take control of Alitalia, in which the state owns 49.9-per cent. He took charge on 1 August, a day after Berardino Libonati resigned on the eve of a critical board meeting.

Meanwhile, a mostly Italian consortium of financiers and entrepreneurs has expressed interest in buying Alitalia itself, which is also in search of a buyer. The previously unknown group joins a handful of companies that say they could consider buying the loss-making airline, though the Italian government's attempt to sell it through an auction failed last month after all bidders pulled out.

The Italian government says it still wants to shed the stake, but has handed over responsibility for finding a buyer to Alitalia's management. It is therefore unclear what is actually for sale and who is in the lead to buy it.

The new group has five Italian and foreign members that represent both financial and corporate interests, its lawyer Antonio Baldassarre, a former chairman of Italy's constitutional court, said, but declined to identify the members. He said none of them had participated in the auction that collapsed.

The group has presented its interest to the Italian Treasury, but has yet to do so directly with the airline, he said. It does not plan to cut jobs and would keep Alitalia's management Italian and widen its flight network, he said. That contrasts with the view of most experts, who say Alitalia needs deep restructuring with largescale layoffs if it is to become profitable again.