ROME — The state railway running Italy’s Alitalia airline chose the Atlantia group of the Benetton empire as the final partner to work with the railway, the Italian treasury and Delta Air Lines on trying once again to relaunch the struggling flagship carrier.
Ferrovie dello Stato said its board met Monday and settled on Atlantia after three other offers arrived.
Alitalia declared bankruptcy two years ago and has long struggled against competition from low-cost carriers, failing to come up with a successful plan to establish itself as a player in lucrative, long-haul aviation routes.
Atlantia is the controlling company of Autostrade per l’Italia, by far the largest of the private companies operating highways under agreements with the Italian government that allow them to collect tolls in exchange for maintenance and upkeep.
One of the bridges it operated was Genoa’s Morandi span, which collapsed last year, killing 43 people. The Italian government pledged to Autostrade’s highway operating concessions, alleging poor maintenance contributed to the Genoa disaster.
While the cause of the bridge failure has not yet been determined, prosecutors have put managers of Autostrade among the more than 20 people under investigation.
The bridge disaster has been seen as a factor in pressuring the board to help save Alitalia with the latest in a series of bailouts, cash infusions, foreign investments and relaunching plans aimed at turning the loss-making airline around.
In a statement Monday, the railway said it would start working with its partners to “share the business plan and the other elements of the eventual offer.”
Italian Deputy Premier Luigi Di Maio, who as economic development minister spearheaded the negotiations, said it was too soon to declare victory but he thinks Monday’s development set the stage for a new Alitalia.
He denied the Genoa disaster played any part in the decision, saying Ferrovie dello Stato selected Atlantia in full autonomy.
“Let it be clear: Nothing and no one will cancel out the 43 deaths of the Morandi Bridge. Nothing and no one will cancel out the pain of their families,” he said in a Facebook post.
Rejecting the idea of a possible quid pro quo, he added: “We will not retreat even one centimeter on the revocation of the concessions for Autostrade.”