Ryanair said it has made a non-binding bid for an airline that couldn’t be more different in style from the Irish maverick: Italy’s ailing flag carrier, Alitalia.
Several months ago, an insolvent Alitalia had effectively put itself up for sale – while the Italian government threw the legacy carrier a lifeline in the form of a bridge loan. That loan will keep the airline afloat only until this fall, however, increasing the pressure on the company to entertain serious offers.
Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary, who has a penchant for tongue-in-cheek remarks, made it clear that the possible deal is no joke – even if they’d make very odd airline partners. "We are serious in indicating we have an interest in Alitalia,” he said.
But he went to add that “we are also serious in that our interest…is only if there was a significant restructuring so that Alitalia could reasonably be seen to operate on a profitable basis." And he insisted he would only go forward if certain other conditions were met, including “an absence of interference” by the Italian government in the running of the airline.
Alitalia said that at least 10 potential suitors came forward after last week’s initial deadline, although it declined to name them. But Etihad Airways disclosed that it too had made a bid to acquire the entire carrier, on top of the 49% stake it currently owns.
For Ryanair the deal might make sense from a strategic point of view. It has been expanding in Italy in recent years, and now has nearly 30% of the air travel market in the country.
This also comes at a time when Ryanair is weighing its options should the U.K. decide to quit the EU Open Skies agreement as part of its Brexit policy. While the betting is that Britain will remain in the agreement, O’Leary warned that Ryanair might shift some of its fleet to other EU countries if that situation were to change.