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said if the acceptance did not come before an investors’ meeting at 1400GMT on Thursday, the package would be withdrawn.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

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September 14, 2008

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.

map

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.

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