Italian carrier Air Italy confirmed it would stop flying and liquidate, after a meeting of the carriers’ shareholders (Alisarda and Qatar Airways through AQA Holding SPA) on 11 February.
The airline – which reportedly made a loss of €164 million in 2018 – will cease flights using its own equipment immediately.
However, until February 25, Air Italy services will be flown by other carriers – giving a two-week grace period to those holding bookings with Italy’s second-largest airline.
Air Italy can trace its roots back to the 1960s when its predecessor was established under the name of Alisarda. Initially intended to offer air links to Italy’s resort destinations, that carrier was rebranded in the 1990s to become Meridiana.
It was not until 2005 that the name Air Italy first appeared. The modest-sized airline later merged with Meridiana – a move that was announced on 18 July 2011. On 28 September 2017, Qatar Airways acquired a 49% stake in Meridiana, which was reorganised and relaunched as the current Air Italy in 2018.
Over the past two years, the airline has been expanding its services, in an attempt to become a major player in the Italian and European aviation industry.
With a fleet comprising of Airbus A330-200s and Boeing 737s (both NG and MAX), the airline was negatively impacted by the March 2019 grounding of the Boeing 737 MAX, of which Air Italy had orders for 20 examples.
With the three MAX aircraft delivered to Air Italy unable to fly, the ongoing issues plaguing the 737 MAXs return to service hindered the airline’s plans throughout 2019 and 2020.
Of the airline’s closure, minority shareholder Qatar Airways stressed its willingness to continue to support Air Italy via a prepared statement: “Qatar Airways has strongly believed in the company and in its potential, supporting management’s proposed business plan with a view to improving Air Italy’s growth and job creation, with the addition of long-haul routes and numerous in-flight service improvements, in line with Qatar Airways’ globally renowned high standards.”
Qatar Airways says it continuously provided support to Air Italy, which ranged from ordering new aircraft for the Italian carrier and allowing Air Italy to utilise aircraft from the Qatar fleet, to supporting Air Italy management and providing capital and investments, “as required and permitted.”
“Even with the changing competitive environment and the increasingly difficult market conditions severely impacting the air transport industry, Qatar Airways has continually reaffirmed its commitment, as a minority shareholder, to continue investing in the company to create value for Italy and the travelling public and to provide support for Air Italy and its staff because for Qatar Airways the focus on employees is a core priority in its strive for excellence – in addition to supporting local communities and other stakeholders,” the Doha based airline said.
Adding: “For this reason, Qatar Airways was ready once again to play its part in supporting the growth of the airline, but this would only have been possible with the commitment of all shareholders.”
Air Italy’s website advises passengers with flights booked up to 25 February to arrive for their flights as planned, saying these services are being: “regularly operated, without any changes to the original scheduled dates and times and on the same flight conditions.”
Travellers with bookings after 25 February will be provided with refunds.
The collapse of Italy’s second largest airline is a worrying sign for Italian travellers, with flag carrier Alitalia also experiencing financial woes.
Declaring bankruptcy in 2017, the larger Italian airline is currently operating on government loans, as the organisation attempts to reorganise and find long-term backers.