Alitalia’s chairman is re-considering his decision not to stand for re-election after some of the airline’s biggest shareholders asked him to stay while talks with potential investor Etihad Airways continue, sources close to the matter said on Wednesday.
Roberto Colaninno said in October he would step down after a 300-million-euro ($408 million) capital increase, completed at the end of December.
Shareholders are due to propose candidates for the new board by the end of Wednesday ahead of a meeting to appoint the new directors on Jan. 13.
Alitalia is now in the middle of talks with Abu Dhabi’s Etihad, which sources close to the matter say is willing to take a large stake. This may mean another board reshuffle for the flagship Italian airline should a deal come through.
“Several shareholders have asked Colaninno to stay on during the transition period because they see no point in a new person coming in should the shareholding structure again be reshuffled after a potential deal with Etihad,” one of the sources said.
Analysts and industry sources have said the talks with Etihad are likely to take several weeks.
The sources said uncertainty over the future governance structure of the loss-making airline was keeping other candidates for the chairmanship away. Colaninno is the frontrunner, they said.
Colaninno could not be reached for comment and Alitalia declined to comment.
Chief executive Gabriele Del Torchio, who took the helm in April and is pushing through cost-cutting measures, is widely expected to be re-appointed as he enjoys the backing of shareholders, the sources said.
“Del Torchio is liked by all,” a second source said.
Etihad is carrying out due diligence on Alitalia. Sources with knowledge of the situation have said Etihad is considering injecting up to 300 million euro into Alitalia, which would give it a stake of around 40 per cent, large enough to secure sufficient management and strategy influence.
Alitalia offers access to Europe’s fourth-largest travel market and flies 25 million passengers a year. But the airline, loses 700,000 euros a day and has net debt of more than 800 million euros.
After the capital increase, Alitalia’s main shareholders include banks Intesa Sanpaolo and UniCredit, state-owned Poste Italiane, motorway group Atlantia and Colaninno’s holding group IMMSI.
Air France-KLM, which used to be Alitalia’s biggest investor with a stake of 25 per cent, refused to subscribe to the airline’s capital increase and will see its stake diluted to seven per cent.