Italy launches sale of ITA Airways, to keep minority stake

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ROME (Reuters) – The Italian government has launched the process to find a partner for ITA Airways and in a first stage will retain a minority stake in the successor company to Alitalia, Economy Minister Daniele Franco revealed.

Rome has drafted a decree which lists ways it can offload its holding in the airline, including a direct sale or a public offer, without setting a deadline for a deal.

“There are subjects interested in the operation but we do not have a plan under which we can predetermine the timing,” Franco said during a news conference after a cabinet meeting.

State-owned ITA started flying on Oct. 15 and has been looking for equity partners.

Shipping company MSC and Germany’s Lufthansa have expressed an interest in buying a majority stake in ITA, and asked for an exclusivity period of 90 days to iron out details.

Other suitors may emerge in the coming weeks if ITA opens its books to prospective buyers.

Delta Air Lines Inc said last month it had no plans to invest in ITA.

In past decades, Alitalia tried and failed to clinch alliances with Air France and, more recently, Gulf airline Etihad.

The Italian government has spent an estimated 10 billion euros of taxpayers’ money on Alitalia over the years.

Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte, additional reporting by Francesca Landini in Milan, writing by Giulia Segreti, editing by Gavin Jones and Mark Potter

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