MILAN, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Alitalia is about to finalise loan agreements with banks for up to 200 million euros ($270 million) pledged last year to help keep the Italian airline flying while it finds a potential new partner, its chief executive said.
The loans are part of a 500 million euro emergency package put together to give the troubled airline enough cash while it restructures and finalises talks with Etihad Airways on a possible investment.
“In a few hours we will sign the loan agreement with the banks and give Alitalia addition financial means,” Gabriele Del Torchio told RAI Radio1.
The bank financing and a 300 million capital increase, which Alitalia completed in December, are expected to keep the carrier in the air for about six months, analysts have said. But the airline urgently needs a strong industrial partner such as Etihad to remain profitable in the long term.
Alitalia offers access to Europe’s fourth-largest travel market and flies 25 million passengers a year, but has been hit by competition from low-cost carriers and high-speed trains.
Alitalia and Etihad Airways are in the final phase of due diligence for a possible investment by the Abu Dhabi group in Alitalia, the companies said on Sunday.
A tie-up with Etihad could boost Alitalia’s liquidity and allow it to invest in a new strategy focused on long-haul routes that could make it profitable again, analysts have said.
Alitalia’s revised industrial plan - which includes cost cuts of around 300 million euros - and the airline’s debt of 813 million euros at end-September are at the centre of the tie-up talks with Etihad.
One of Etihad’s conditions is for banks to write off parts of the airline’s debt, a source close to Alitalia said, which banks have so far refused to agree to.
Lack of agreement over a debt restructuring has also contributed to Alitalia shareholder Air France-KLM’s decision to shun the Italian firm’s cash call. This resulted in Air France-KLM’s stake in the Italian carrier falling to around 7 percent from 25 percent.
“We are in the most delicate phase of the talks ... but I have no doubt that all will do their part,” Del Torchio said.
The banks exposed to Alitalia’s debt include Italy’s two top lenders UniCredit and Intesa Sanpaolo, Monte dei Paschi di Siena and Banca Popolare di Sondrio .
Del Torchio said Air France-KLM remained an “absolutely vital partner”.
“We have a commercial agreement with them that will last at least until 2017, and they remain therefore a viable partner,” Del Torchio told the radio station.
Alitalia and Air France-KLM are both members of the SkyTeam alliance, a group of 19 airlines with a seat-sharing agreement.
The CEO of the Franco-Dutch group said last month the airline would look at reinvesting in Alitalia if its conditions on debt restructuring and cost cuts were met. ($1 = 0.7415 euros) (Reporting by Agnieszka Flak. Editing by Jane Merriman)