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Bids coming to privatize Italy's ITA Airways


The long saga that started with the slow-burning bankruptcy of Italy's former Alitalia opens a new chapter with its state-owned successor, ITA Airways, opening its books to three sets of bidders who want at least a majority stake in the new, slimmed-down airline.

And that's fine with the Italian government, whose goal has been for Italy to have a 'flag carrier' airline, but to replace public money with private investment.

The three groups that have qualified all have existing airline connections, but each represents a different set of connections.

The long-time expected favorite bidder, Germany's Lufthansa (which also owns the flag carriers of Austria, Belgium and Switzerland) is teamed with MSC, a major container shipping company that also operates a major cruise line. The pair had originally asked for an exclusive first look, but Italy decided not to favor one group.

Two other interested bidders are Certares, a U.S. private equity group that invests in buyouts and joint ventures, especially in travel) and Indigo Partners, which is a major investor in Wizz Air, Frontier Airlines, JetSmart and Mexico's Volaris.

Unstated, but widely rumored, is a possible bid involving Delta and AirFrance/KLM, longtime Alitalia partners and alliance members. They were rumored possibilities to buy Alitalia, and are now reported to be in discussions with an investor group about a possible ITA bid.

While ITA began its operations last October largely with second-hand Alitalia equipment and former staff, it has since signed contracts for a new fleet of Airbus planes, including A220s, A320neo, A330 and a few A350s. In case a new purchaser is feeling nostalgic, it also owns the Alitalia name and marks, which it bought at auction.

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