The future recapitalisation of Alitalia, Italy's near-bankrupt airline, was put under the spotlight on Friday after it emerged that the Italian government has allocated €750m ($930m) for the air transport industry in its 2005 budget.
Government officials were not immediately available to comment on the intended purpose of the funds, but Giancarlo Cimoli, Alitalia's chief executive, has said his company needs to be recapitalised early next year to stay in business.
Alitalia is in the final stages of completing a rescue plan that involves the shedding of 3,700 jobs, the division of the airline into two companies, and the take-up of a €400m government-guaranteed emergency loan approved by the European Commission.
In the 2005 budget, which the centre-right government passed on Wednesday night, the sum of €750m appears under the heading “capital for companies in the air transport sector”. Alitalia is planning a recapitalisation by next March of at least €1bn, and possibly up to €2bn, but any use of government funds in that may risk being branded illegal state aid by European Union competition authorities.
The government, which owns 62 per cent of Alitalia, has promised the EU that it will reduce its stake to below 50 per cent.
But in a deal last week between Alitalia's management and trade unions, Mr Cimoli said the government's stake would not drop below 30 per cent.
According to figures released by Alitalia on Thursday, net group debt amounted to €1.63bn at the end of August, compared with €1.68bn one month earlier.
The European Commission has yet to make a ruling on Alitalia's rescue plan. It is uncertain whether it will do so before November 1, when Loyola de Palacio, the Spanish transport commissioner, will be replaced by Jacques Barrot of France.