EU gives green light to ITA-Lufthansa operation. Now no more mistakes

Finally, and although conditioned by the limits set by Brussels to our Ministry of Economy, the acquisition of the first 41% of Ita Airways shares by Lufthansa will take place. It took 13 months of waiting, of which over seven were negotiations, because a European Commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, was fixated on the fact that this operation would have limited competition. Who knows where the same Commissioner was when two low-cost companies effectively called the shots in national air traffic. It’s not exactly water under the bridge, let’s say instead that Vestager had an easy game because the previous governments had a completely anti-Italian vision of commercial aviation, tainted by decades of Alitalia crisis and disputes to create the new company. We remember, in fact, the imposition of discontinuity with a name change and the long controversies that followed.

Let’s look ahead, within a year at least three more companies will open in Italy, one in Sicily, one between Emilia Romagna and Romania, the third in the Marche, and this is undoubtedly an excellent sign that disproves all Vestager’s beliefs.

Returning to Ita-Lufthansa, the agreement with the EU provides for three distinct moments, the first of which begins with a capital increase of 325 million euros for the sale of 41% of the carrier. Subsequently, Lufthansa will have the possibility of acquiring 90% and, by 2033, take the last 10%, arriving at having invested a total of 829 million euros. The time frame for implementing the program is four months, after which there will be statutory changes to the company structure, a new Board of Directors will be elected, of which three members (two plus the president) will be decided by the Ministry of Economy and Finance and two by Lufthansa (1 plus the CEO). All this will be possible without European interference if certain conditions are met that the owners of the carriers, namely Lufthansa and the Ministry of Economy and Finance, have proposed to the European Antitrust Authority, namely the now famous transfer of a number of slots between 15 and 17 at Milan’s Forlanini airport, which means giving up about thirty flights, as well as allowing another carrier to, at least for three years, activate flights on routes that would have been – according to the Commissioner – devoid of competition because saturated by Ita and Lufthansa. The group will then have to compete less with other carriers on routes between Rome Fiumicino and some destinations in the USA and Canada, on cities such as Washington, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto etc., or find two competitors for each route who want to operate flights even with a stopover that includes a journey no longer than two hours and that does not involve an increase in the total duration of the flight of no more than three hours. These are technicalities, since the preference for one carrier or another is played out on other parameters such as the cost of tickets, the modernity (and comfort) of the airplanes and more, but they are also constraints that sound absurd in a globalized context and in a market, that of commercial aviation, which is growing by 12% annually.

Regarding co-marketing and code-share programs, Ita Airways will move from the group of carriers that form the Sky Team alliance to Star Alliance, with the Italians entering the transatlantic joint venture that Lufthansa has with the US carrier United Airlines and Air Canada (i.e. A-plus-plus). While waiting for the press conference organized after the formal communication that should arrive this morning from Brussels, in Rome, at the Treasury, with the Minister of Economy Giancarlo Giorgetti, the executive chairman of Ita Airways Antonino Turicchi and the CEO of the Lufthansa group Carsten Spohr, allow us an observation.

The history of commercial aviation has always seen moments in which companies have merged and split up. The two-year pandemic has taught us some things, such as the need to keep crews active and not quickly get rid of older pilots, only to then have to rush to put young people in the cabin without the necessary experience; but also that only with a large fleet can we tackle technological renewal plans and aggressive markets such as the Chinese or Arab ones. The Lufthansa group is now present – but does not dominate – in Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, Italy (already with Air Dolomiti), Germany and Greece (the management of airports became German after the 2009 financial crisis). But with a 12% growth in the sector there is room for everyone and for every market, from business flights at premium prices and service to low-cost ones. Because it is the customers who choose. And what happened between Brussels and Ita-Lufthansa, in fact, has only made us waste time trying – in vain – to do a favor to the Irish, English and French.