Etihad to push Alitalia deal - CEO

Rome - Etihad Airways chief James Hogan said on Wednesday he aimed to complete negotiations on buying 49% of Alitalia by the end of the month but stressed the company had to be "right-sized" first.

"We're all focussed on the end of this month. With our agreement, more time is allowed but our focus is the end of the month," Hogan said during a visit to Italy, where he was launching a new Etihad route between Abu Dhabi and Rome.

"We are in the final stages of the negotiations. We do need to right-size the airline," he said, as Alitalia management continued talks with unions for around 1 600 job cuts.

"We don't step into these negotiations unless we're convinced the airline will move to profitability.

"If we complete, we'll complete with the right foundation. The key issue is getting the cost base right," he said.

Alitalia "needs to be re-energised and brought back alive," he continued, adding: "A re-energised Alitalia could be one of the most successful airlines in Europe but to achieve that we have to have the right starting point."

Alitalia said it had agreed a job cuts plan with unions representing 80% of the workforce although Italy's biggest trade union, the CGIL, has not given its go-ahead.

It has also negotiated a deal with current stakeholders to renegotiate Alitalia's debt of about €565m ($765m).

Asked about the future role for Air France-KLM, an existing shareholder, Hogan said: "Air France and KLM and Delta are all very important partners. We expect that relationship to continue."

The Emirates national carrier - based in Abu Dhabi - is planning to buy a 49% stake in the debt-laden Italian flag carrier, which currently employs 12 800 people.

Etihad's initial investment is expected to be around €560m ($762m), and €660m more has been mooted in future to develop the airline.

Etihad has expanded hugely since it was founded in 2003 and now has stakes in India's Jet Airways, Air Serbia, Air Seychelles, Aer Lingus and Air Berlin.

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