News & Current Affairs

September 18, 2008

Deadline looms for Alitalia deal

Deadline looms for Alitalia deal

Alitalia air hostesses and employees demonstrate at Fiumicino airport near Rome, 17 September 2008

Union protests forced the ailing airline to cancel 40 flights on Wednesday

A consortium of investors has warned Italian trade union leaders they have just hours to accept a rescue plan for failed national airline, Alitalia.

The consortium said if the acceptance did not come before an investors’ meeting at 1400GMT on Thursday, the package would be withdrawn.

The deal would include longer working hours and 3,000 job cuts.

Union protests forced Alitalia, which is losing 2.1m euro ($3m; £1.7m) daily, to cancel 40 flights on Wednesday.

The carrier, which is operating under a bankruptcy commissioner, faces liquidation if a deal is not reached.

The airline says it is running out of money to buy aviation fuel.

Under the rescue proposal, the Italian consortium has put forward a 1bn euro offer for the airline.

Alitalia would merge with Air One, the country’s second largest airline, and its 1.2bn euro debt would be absorbed by a second firm, which would then be liquidated.

Disgruntled pilots

Italy’s four main union organizations – CGIL, CISL, UIL and UGL – have already signed up to the agreement with the consortium CAI, but five other unions have rejected the deal as “useless and provocative”.

Alitalia plane

The new Alitalia would employ about 12,500 people

Those opposed to the package – SDL, ANPAC, UP, ANPAV and Avia – include pilots and cabin crews.

The new Alitalia would employ about 12,500 people including 1,500 pilots, 3,300 cabin staff and 7,650 technicians, workers and managerial staff, Italy’s Ansa news agency reported.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has pledged to do all he can to save Alitalia, in which the Italian government holds a 49.9% stake.

In April, plans for the airline to be bought by Air France-KLM collapsed.

Alitalia suspended trading in its shares in June and filed for bankruptcy protection last month.

September 14, 2008

Alitalia crisis meetings restart

Alitalia crisis meetings restart

Alitalia plane

Time is running out to save Alitalia

Emergency talks to prevent the collapse of Alitalia have restarted in Rome after the airline warned it may have to start canceling flights from Monday.

With the airline saying it is running out of money to buy aviation fuel, the government needs to persuade unions to back a deal that involves job cuts.

The only offer on the table is from Italian consortium CAI, which only wants Alitalia’s profitable operations.

Unions have so far rejected this deal as it would mean major job losses.

Yet with the only alternative now increasingly looking like Alitalia’s total collapse and the loss of all 20,000 jobs, the unions now appear more willing to back down.

‘Cautiously optimistic’

We are trying to get a solution to this saga and there are still many obstacles, but the climate is different and there is the awareness that there is no alternative to the deal,” said Giuseppe Caronia, head of the UILT union.

“I am moderately and cautiously optimistic.”

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has pledged to do all he can to save Alitalia.

Securing the airline’s future was one of his main election pledges before he returned to power in May.

Failed French takeover

Back in April, plans for Alitalia to be bought by Air France-KLM collapsed due to union opposition to planned job cuts.

Italy’s civil aviation authority said on Saturday that Alitalia’s operating licence was at risk due to the airline’s admission that it was running out of funds to buy fuel.

Alitalia is currently being run by administrators after seeking bankruptcy protection on 29 August.

The Italian government owns a 49.9% stake in Alitalia, but it cannot simply pump public funds into the airline as there are strict European Union rules preventing state support for airlines.

Scores die in Russian plane crash

Scores die in Russian plane crash

A Russian airliner that crashed near a city in the Urals, killing all 88 people on board, caught fire and exploded in mid-air, reports say.

The Boeing-737-500, belonging to a branch of the national airline Aeroflot, was on a flight from Moscow to Perm, near the Ural mountains.

Twenty-one foreign passengers were on board the Aeroflot Nord flight.

Radio contact with the plane was lost as it was landing. One witness said it looked like a comet as it came down.

“It looked like a… burning comet. It hit the ground opposite the next house, there was a blaze, like fireworks, it lit the whole sky, the blaze,” the witness told Russian TV.

A still from Russian TV shows flames at the crash site early on 14 September

One witness said the blaze lit up the whole sky

The Boeing-737 had 82 passengers on board, including seven children, and six crew, Aeroflot said.

Those killed include Gen Gennady Troshev, a former commander of Russian forces in Chechnya and military adviser to former Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A spokesman for Russian federal prosecutors, Vladimir Markin, said a criminal inquiry had been launched to examine whether safety procedures had been violated.

Earlier, Mr Markin said the most likely cause of the crash was technical failure but Aeroflot says the plane had “a full technical inspection” early this year and was judged to be in a “proper condition”.

Aeroflot conducted its own investigation into the causes of the crash and, without giving details, announced it was stripping Aeroflot Nord of the right to use its name from Monday onwards.

‘Completely destroyed’

Contact with the plane was lost at 0521 Perm time on Sunday (2321 GMT Saturday) as the plane was coming in for landing at a height of 1,100 metres, Aeroflot said.

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The minister for security in the region said the plane had caught fire in the air at an altitude of 1,000 meters.

It crashed on the outskirts of Perm, just a few hundred meters from residential buildings, but no one was hurt on the ground.

Part of the Trans-Siberian railway was shut down as a result of damage to the main east-west train track and the blaze took two hours to extinguish.

The 21 foreigners killed were listed as nine people from Azerbaijan, five from Ukraine and one person each from France, Switzerland, Latvia, the United States, Germany, Turkey and Italy, Aeroflot said.

Investigators have recovered two black box recorders from the crash site. There was no immediate suggestion of an attack or sabotage.

Aeroflot’s managing director, Valery Okulov, told reporters in Moscow that his company had already conducted its own, private investigation into the crash and decided to sever ties with Aeroflot Nord.

“We have paid too high a price for lending out our flag,” he added.

Scorched earth

Correspondents say the tragedy will be a setback for Russian aviation, which has been trying to shake off a chequered safety record.

A woman in Perm told Vesti-24 TV how she was thrown out of bed by the force of the blast when the plane crashed.

She said: “My daughter ran in from the next room crying: ‘What happened? Has a war begun or what?’

“My neighbors, other witnesses, told me that it was burning in the air.”

Sunday’s accident was the deadliest involving a Russian airliner since 170 people died in August 2006 when a Tupolev-154 bound for St Petersburg crashed in Ukraine.

September 13, 2008

Alitalia ‘running out of fuel’

Alitalia ‘running out of fuel’

Alitalia plane

Negotiations with unions will be critical to saving the airline

Italy’s troubled national airline, Alitalia, cannot guarantee flights beyond Sunday because of a lack of funds to buy fuel, a top official says.

“Until the end of tomorrow, flights are guaranteed. From Monday, they are not,” Augusto Fantozzi, Alitalia’s bankruptcy administrator, told unions.

Mr Fantozzi was speaking as he called the unions to emergency talks a day after the latest session broke down.

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi blamed “political” motives for the failure.

He said he would do all he could to save Alitalia from collapse.

“The executive is always ready… to give all the possible support to get to the only solution possible to avoid the airline going bust,” he told the Italian news agency Ansa.

Italian investment consortium CAI, which was poised to take over the company’s profit-making parts, walked away from talks with the unions on Friday, accusing them of intransigence.

CIA chief executive Rocco Sabelli said on Saturday it was not ready to make any further concessions.

September 5, 2008

Easyjet’s passenger numbers rise

Easyjet’s passenger numbers rise

easyjet plane

Eayjet’s passenger traffic is up despite difficult market conditions

Easyjet has said that the number of passengers it flew in August this year rose 24% on the same month last year.

Europe’s second-largest budget airline said it transported some 4.6 million passengers in August 2008, compared to 3.7 million in August 2007.

Aer Lingus also saw an increase, flying 8.8% more passengers this August than in August 2007.

On a rolling 12-month basis to August 2008, Easyjet increased passenger numbers by 16.6%.

The number of seats filled also increased to 91.3% from 87.4% last August.

At Aer Lingus the load factor was 80.5% in August, a slight dip on 81.7% a year ago.

Easyjet shares were down 2% at 1005 BST, while Aer Lingus shares were down 0.9%.

Industry turbulence

The figures for Easyjet and Aer Lingus are relatively strong compared with those released on Friday by Scandinavian airline SAS.

SAS, which is partly owned by the governments of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, said traffic for August measured in revenue passenger kilometres, fell 0.7% and demand was weakening further.

Airlines worldwide have been effected by the economic deceleration and several airlines, including business airlines Silverjet, Maxjet and Eon and budget airline Zoom, have folded.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), global airlines will post losses in the region of $5.2bn (£2.96bn) this year and $4.1bn in 2009.

August 30, 2008

Alitalia seeks bankruptcy measure

Alitalia seeks bankruptcy measure

Alitalia plane

Negotiations with unions will be critical to saving the airline

Troubled Italian airline Alitalia has applied for bankruptcy protection as it tries to agree a deal to ensure its long-term survival.

The carrier has sought court protection from its creditors, effectively declaring itself insolvent.

An administrator will be appointed to handle the process, with flights continuing while the firm plans a radical overhaul of its operations.

Losing 2m euros (£1.6m) a day, Alitalia has survived on a 300m-euro state loan.

Plans are being drawn up to split the carrier into two and to sell a stake in a new entity to a foreign airline.

Split in two

Guaranteeing the airline’s future will depend on securing fresh investment and persuading its unions to accept large job cuts.

Both Air France KLM and Lufthansa have expressed interest in investing in any new entity which emerges from the current business.

No one can buy Alitalia in the state it’s in… the business is toast
Roberto Colaninno

Earlier on Friday, Corrado Passera, head of the airline’s financial advisers Intesa Sanpaolo, confirmed that Alitalia’s board was drawing up a request to seek bankruptcy protection.

The move will give the firm breathing space to reach agreement on how the business can proceed.

The government adopted new measures on Thursday aimed at speeding up bankruptcy proceedings, widely interpreted as a signal that Alitalia was set for such a course of action.

Future plans for the carrier would see it divided in half, with its loss-making operations remaining under bankruptcy protection and potentially being liquidated.

Profitable short-haul routes would be separated into a new business, controlled by a consortium of Italian investors including budget airline Air One which would effectively be merged with Alitalia.

Italian media have speculated that the new firm will employ 7,000 fewer staff than Alitalia’s current 19,000 strong workforce and operate flights to about 50 fewer destinations.

Italian ownership

Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has made Alitalia’s continued ownership by Italian interests a precondition of any rescue deal.

However, experts have said the airline – of which the government owns 49% – can only survive in the future as part of some European alliance.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi

Silvio Berlusconi wants to keep the airline in Italian hands

Previous attempts to sell the business to a foreign airline have foundered over union concerns about job losses and unease over the severity of the airline’s financial problems.

The airline’s perilous position was put into perspective by Roberto Colaninno, appointed to take charge of the new entity that emerges from the restructuring.

“No one can buy Alitalia in the state it’s in,” he told La Repubblica newspaper.

“With all respect, I am not Merlin the magician. The business is toast. It doesn’t exist any more. There’s nothing left.”

Alitalia has been crippled in recent years by strategic indecision, poor industrial relations and soaring fuel costs.

Its shares were suspended earlier this summer while the firm has delayed the release of its 2007 accounts.

August 27, 2008

Sudanese plane hijacked in Darfur

 

 

Sudanese plane hijacked in Darfur

 

 

A Boeing 737 (generic image from Boeing website)

The plane is a Boeing 737

A Sudanese airliner hijacked shortly after take-off from Nyala, in Darfur region, has landed in Libya.

The plane was on its way to Khartoum, but has landed in the remote town of Kufra near the Libya-Sudan border, Sudanese aviation officials say.

The hijackers have asked for fuel to fly the plane, belonging to Sudanese airline Sun Air and with 95 people on board, to France.

Officials said members of a former Darfur rebel group were on the plane.

A Sudanese security official said a man with a knife had hijacked the plane, The Associated Press news agency reported.

Aviation officials said the plane, a Boeing 737, had landed at the Libyan oasis town of Kufra, in the desert near the border with Sudan.

Rebel denial

The three former rebels allegedly on board were originally said to be senior members of a faction of the Sudan Liberation Movement led by Minni Arkou Minnawi.

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His group was the only one to sign a peace deal with the Khartoum government in 2006.

However, a spokesman for Minni Minnawi said his three associates had not taken part in the hijacking.

The AFP news agency then reported that the hijackers were members of a hard-line rebel group whose leader lives in France.

A five-year conflict in Darfur has left about 200,000 people dead and more than two million homeless.

Sudanese civil aviation officials told the BBC’s Amber Henshaw in Khartoum that the plane had landed in Libya.

Arabic satellite network al-Jazeera said the plane initially tried to land in Cairo, Egypt, where it was denied permission to land.

The desert Oasis of Kufra is in a remote region approximately 1,700km (1,050 miles) south of the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

It is an area close to both the Sudanese and Chadian borders, and is often used as a corridor for humanitarian aid for displaced Darfuri refugees in Chad, as well as a transit point into the country by illegal immigrants, says the BBC’s Rana Jawad, in Tripoli.

August 20, 2008

Many dead in Madrid plane crash

Many dead in Madrid plane crash

Medical personnel tend to an injured passenger in Madrid's Barajas airport after a Spanair airliner bound for the Canary Islands swerved off the runway.

At least 45 people have been killed after a passenger plane swerved off the runway at Madrid’s Barajas airport, Spanish officials say.

Many others were hurt when the Spanair plane bound for Gran Canaria left the runway with 166 passengers and six crew members on board.

There were reports of a fire in the left engine during take-off. TV footage showed smoke billowing from the craft.

Helicopters and fire trucks were called out to dump water on to the plane.

Dozens of ambulances went to the scene, and TV footage later showed several people being carried away on stretchers.

BBC journalist Stephanie McGovern, who is at the airport, said several planes had been seen taking off since the crash, which happened at about 1430 local time (1230 GMT).

But she added that the airport was now closed and only emergency crews and staff were being allowed into the building.

“Helicopters are continually heading to the scene, dropping lots of water… The smoke has really died down now, things seem to be more under control,” she said.

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“I’ve seen around 50 ambulances. They’re still coming and going, so there may still be more casualties.”

Spanish journalist Manuel Moleno, who was near the area when the accident happened, told the BBC the plane had “crashed into pieces”.

“We heard a big crash. So we stopped and we saw a lot of smoke,” he said.

There are conflicting accounts about the number of deaths, with some reports suggesting most of the passengers on the plane may be dead.

Mr Moleno said he had seen as many as 20 people walking away from the wreckage.

The plane, which was destined for Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, came down during or shortly after take-off from Terminal Four at Barajas.

TV footage showed that the plane had come to rest in fields near the airport.

Spanair issued a statement saying that flight number JK 5022 had been involved in an accident at 1445 local time. The airline’s parent company, Scandinavian firm SAS, later said the accident happened at 1423.

According to Spain’s airport authority, Aena, the plane had been due to take off at 1300 local time.

No details of the nationalities of the passengers on board has yet been released.

But the plane was a codeshare flight with German airline Lufthansa, which said it was investigating whether German passengers were on the flight.

The aircraft was a MD82, a plane commonly used on short trips around Europe, aviation expert Chris Yates told the BBC.

He said Spanair, a subsidiary of Scandinavian carrier SAS, had a very good safety record. Reports say it was the first crash at Barajas airport, some 13km (8 miles) from central Madrid, since 1983.

People concerned for relatives or friends who may have been on board the plane should call Spanair’s helpline on: +34 800 400 200.


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