Today that Alitalia flies for the last time, it’s easy to succumb to sentimentalism.
For generations of Italians like me, Alitalia was the carrier that showed us the magic of flying. For years the carrier transported us across Italy and the world, and we all enjoyed a certain pleasure and pride in being carried by such an elegant brand.
For me, Alitalia has also been a major part of my professional career and life, having worked there for more than 13 years. An experience that formed my understanding of the aviation industry.
My fondest memory is from 1997, when I was invited in the painting hangar at Fiumicino to see the B747 with the Baci Perugina livery, still fresh of paint. Hundreds of hand-drawn white stars on a deep blue background. I have never seen another aircraft so beautiful. A masterpiece of design and marketing of made in Italy. But at that time Alitalia had already accumulated years over years of losses, and was entirely dependent on ongoing funding from the Italian State.
Politics has been the real executioner of Alitalia. Nepotism in hiring, network choices and business deals done to please ministers rather than exploit opportunities. In Rome the carrier has always been seen as a political tool, rather than a company that should be put in conditions to thrive. An unsustainable situation, in a market that had gone through liberalisation and was undergoing radical transformation.
The trick of letting the ‘old’ Alitalia go bankrupt and relaunch as “new”, played several times despite growing intolerance from the EU, never really worked. The reasons were evident. Wrong choices of executives, business models, network. All while low cost and traditional carriers were taking control of the Italian market.
The sad truth is that Alitalia should have been let go many years ago. The carrier did not take the necessary drugs when there was still time and ended up in a long coma, kept artificially alive by a very expensive respirator. Today, we should be happy that this machine can finally be switched off.
The baton passes now to ITA, the new airline created by the Italian Government with some of the Alitalia assets (but not its name and logo, at least for now). The first impression is that of a player with an unclear identity, a business model not very competitive, and a certain dependency from politics. Not exactly the best conditions. On the horizon, there are no other italian airlines able to play a meaningful role in the market.
Someone could interpret Alitalia’s failure as an evidence that Italians don’t understand air transport. Nothing could be further from the truth, as proven by the many Italians that are doing successful careers in aviation all over the world.
Truly there is no logic reason why Italy should not have a good airline. Ireland and Hungary have one, and these are countries that do not have the economic weight and the aeronautical traditions of Italy. Perhaps ITA will make it, or some new airline that has not yet been founded. But in the meantime we can only put aside sentimentalism and regrets and say, bye bye Alitalia.
Chief editor at Londra Italia and Senior Lecturer in Aviation Management at Buckinghamshire New University
Read here an Italian version of the article