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By Alberto Sisto
ROME, June 27 (Reuters) - Ryanair would seek a majority stake in Alitalia if it decides to invest in the loss-making Italian airline, its chief executive said during a visit to Rome on Tuesday.
Alitalia filed in May to be put under special administration for the second time in less than a decade, starting a process that will lead to the airline being overhauled, sold off or wound up.
“In case of an acquisition, we would be interested in a majority stake, not a minority one,” Ryanair CEO Michael O‘Leary told journalists during a news conference in Rome. “We are not interested in a 49 percent stake.”
Ryanair, Europe’s largest airline by passenger numbers, had already expressed an interest in Alitalia, but previously stressed it was keen on cooperating with the business rather than buying it.
Ryanair had also said it wanted to provide short-haul traffic to feed Alitalia’s long-haul network and offered to deploy aircraft this summer if the Italian carrier cut capacity significantly.
However, on Tuesday O‘Leary said Ryanair would consider a bid for the entire airline once it was restructured by the administrators.
More than 30 parties have expressed an interest in Alitalia, although local media said none of the offers were for the entire airline but only for specific assets such as planes or airport slots.
The commissioners have now given selected parties access to Alitalia’s books, with non-binding offers due by July 21.
The government has repeatedly said it would prefer to sell the airline in one block, partly to minimise the impact on its 12,500 staff. It has ruled out re-nationalising Alitalia.
Whereas Etihad Airways, which came to Alitalia’s rescue in 2014, was bound by European rules that limit ownership by groups from outside the EU to 49 percent, Dublin-based Ryanair would be free to buy a bigger stake.
Without a majority stake, Etihad’s influence was limited despite being the largest single investor and the lack of full control meant it could not deal with labour and other problems effectively.
Ryanair already has a strong presence in Italy.
The airline expects its Italian passengers to rise to 36 million this year, O‘Leary said. Official traffic data put the total at 32.6 million last year. (Writing by Agnieszka Flak; Editing by Keith Weir)