The first Italia Trasporto Aereo (ITA) flight from Milan Linate to Bari landed at 7.35am on Friday with crew on the runway wearing the Alitalia uniform, news agency Ansa reports.
The new airline’s second flight left for Milan Linate from Rome Fiumicino at 8am.
Passengers on the first flights said the Alitalia brand had meant a lot to them.
“I wanted to take the last flight of the old airline yesterday and then return home today on the new one, and I did.” said Andrea Ballini from Milan, who was among the 37 passengers on the flight from Fiumicino to Linate. “Yesterday we experienced a moment of profound sadness,”
“Today, however, marks the the beginning of a new era,” he told Ansa.
Federico Tota, from Rome, said: “I have always traveled with Alitalia, within Italy but also on European and international routes. Knowing that I no longer have a national airline, or almost, saddens me. I think this is a sentiment also shared by many other Italians.”
Under a deal agreed with the European Union, the new debt-free venture has taken over half of Alitalia’s planes and landing slots — but thousands of staff are out of a job.
ITA purchased the Alitalia brand on the eve its launch on Thursday October 14th for €90 million, down from the asking price of €290 million.
The purchase means state-backed ITA will be allowed to use its predecessor’s name and identity, including website domain, branding and uniforms.
This means that, for the moment at least, the airline may continue to look very similar to its predecessor.
However as a smaller operation seeking to slash costs it will not replace Alitalia completely – nor will it hire all of its staff.
Alitalia staff unions have held frequent demonstrations protesting against what they call ITA’s proposed “discount contracts”, with wage cuts of up to 20 percent and even 40 percent for pilots.
“It is with deep sadness that we witness the end of Alitalia, it was our national flagship, a symbol of the history of this country,” said Laura Facchini, 47, an Alitalia flight attendant for 20 years.
Like many others, she applied in vain to be taken over by ITA, part of the 2,800 people recruited this year. ITA intends to hire 5,750 more employees in 2022, still short of Alitalia’s total 10,500 employees.
Facchini, a national delegate of the UGL Trasporto Aereo union, said Alitalia employees were desperate.
“We don’t have jobs anymore. We were very attached to this company, very motivated, we always had a smile on our faces,” she told AFP.
Alitalia employees protest outside Rome’s Fiumicino airport on October 15th, 2021, as new Italian airline ITA begins operations.Photo: Andreas SOLARO / AFP
On the verge of bankruptcy, Alitalia was placed under public administration in 2017, but Italy struggled to find an investor to take it over.
The situation was made worse by the pandemic, which grounded airlines worldwide.
In 2020, Alitalia was losing two million euros a day, carrying only 6.3 million passengers, compared to 52.1 million at Ryanair and Air France-KLM’s 34 million.
In September, the European Commission gave the green light to the new venture and authorised the injection of 1.35 billion euros ($1.6 billion) of public funds — while exempting ITA from having to pay back the state aid received by its predecessor.
Over the years, the Italian state has spent more than 13 billion euros to revive the company, between recapitalisations and bridging loans.
Accumulated losses reached 11.4 billion euros between 2000 and 2020.
Competition has intensified since low-cost airlines Ryanair and Easyjet cut prices on short-haul routes and the high-speed train from Rome to Milan reduced travel time by half to three hours.
“The big mistake was not to invest in the lucrative long-haul market,” Andrea Giuricin, a transport economist at the University of Bicocca in Milan, told AFP.
He said ITA is hardly guaranteed success.
“Resisting competition from the giants Air France-KLM and Lufthansa on international routes and from low-cost airlines on the domestic market is a mission impossible,” he said.