Huh: Alitalia May Buy 787s In Order To Simplify Fleet

Filed Under: Alitalia

This is truly wild…

Alitalia being renationalized, big changes coming

First for a bit of background, the current pandemic is actually helping Alitalia, which was on the verge of collapse even before this year. The Italian government is renationalizing Alitalia, investing hundreds of millions of Euros.

Frankly there are a lot more questions than answers, though as of now the plan seems to be as follows:

  • The airline will shrink down to a fleet of about 90 aircraft (compared to the previous fleet of 113 aircraft)
  • The focus will be on long haul flights, rather than short haul flights, where a lot of money has been lost
  • With Alitalia having been kicked out of the SkyTeam transatlantic joint venture, the airline will be seeking new alliances and partnerships, and may even be looking to join oneworld or Star Alliance
  • The airline will be furloughing 6,600+ workers

Only time will tell how many of these plans the airline actually follows through on, but this has been the alleged goal.

Alitalia plans to shrink its fleet

Alitalia to acquire Boeing 787s for long haul flights

Corriere, which is consistently a reliable source when it comes to Alitalia information, reports on a surprising fleet renewal plan for the airline. Alitalia has been losing money for (seemingly) generations, so you’d think the main focus would be on minimizing losses.

However, apparently Alitalia wants to greatly simplify its fleet, to include just A320s and 787s. Since Alitalia doesn’t have any 787s, the airline would need to acquire some as part of this plan, as these planes would replace the existing long haul fleet of Airbus A330s and Boeing 777s. Currently:

  • Alitalia has 14 Airbus A330s, which are an average of 11 years old
  • Alitalia has 12 Boeing 777s, which are an average of 17 years old

With this plan, Alitalia would retire its 777 fleet

Why would Alitalia spend the money to acquire Boeing 787s? The logic is (apparently) that:

  • The airline would exclusively operate A320s and 787s in order greatly simplify its fleet
  • The 787 would lead to 100 million EUR per year in operational benefits, plus 200 million EUR per year in fuel savings
  • It’s believed that the 787s could be purchased “with discounts of at least 50%” (though if that’s compared to list prices, then it’s probably not too far off from how much airlines would usually pay for planes)
  • Nothing has been finalized, but apparently discussions have already started between the airline and Boeing
  • Alitalia would view buying 787s as supporting the Italian economy, since part of the 787 horizontal stabilizer and fuselage are apparently built in Italy

Alitalia CityLiner to get A220s

Alitalia CityLiner is Alitalia’s regional airline, which operates under a separate air operator certificate. The airline operates a fleet of 20 Embraer aircraft, including the EMB170 and EMB190.

The same report suggests that Alitalia CityLiner may be looking to replace the current Embraer aircraft with the popular new Airbus A220.

Alitalia CityLiner could retire its Embraer fleet

While the A220 is a great plane, I can’t help but wonder what Alitalia’s contract with pilots says when it comes to scope. The A220 has 110-140 seats (depending on the model), while the EMB190 has at most 100 seats.

As a result, at many airlines the A220 needs to be operated as part of the mainline fleet, given how large it is.

AirBaltic A220-300

Bottom line

I wouldn’t count on Alitalia actually acquiring any 787s until the first plane is in Alitalia’s possession and has taken off from Seattle. That being said, it’s absolutely fascinating that this is apparently seriously being considered.

Don’t get me wrong, there are of course benefits to a simplified and more fuel efficient fleet, but should Alitalia really be spending billions of dollars on new planes at this point?

What do you think — could Alitalia actually replace all its A330s and 777s with 787s, or is this just wishful/bizarre thinking? 

(Tip of the hat to You Have Been Upgraded)

  1. Alitalia is just a real-life game of Fantasy Airlines, played with Italian tax-payers’ money.

    The state uses a mixture of grants, subsidies and “Hollywood accounting” (it’s worth looking up that concept’s Wikipedia entry, if you don’t already know it). Any resemblance to an ordinary business is entirely coincidental.

  2. In the 1960’s, as the era of the great transatlantic ocean liners was dying (due to the introduction of the swift and reliable 707 and DC-8 jetliners), Italy chose to ignore this new reality. As countries on both sides of the Atlantic began rapidly retiring their passenger liners, Italy decided they would build two new ones; the superliners MICHELANGELO and RAFFAELLO. These ships cost a fortune. And while elegant, and oozing Italian style, they never earned their way. Italian taxpayers kept them afloat. Often the ships sailed virtually empty, and after short careers, they were withdrawn from service.

    Not much has changed in the way the Italian government deals with fiscal realities, and therefore I have little faith in any plans for a ‘new’, money-making Alitalia.

  3. Alitalia definitely needs to simply its fleet.

    If Alitalia would go with this plan, they should only get the 787-8 and -9. I believe the -10 would be too large for most of their routes.

  4. Why 787s? Wouldn’t it be easier to have an all Airbus fleet then and buy A350s?

    It is all a bit mad but in a way you’ve got to love how Alitalia keeps surprising us
    The customer care isn’t great, but they still have a certain amount and character and style. Food on board isn’t too bad either

  5. The 787 is the right aircraft for them. A350 may be too large to replace the smaller A332s, plus the 787-9/10 can replace the 772s.

    I can see them picking up 787s from Norwegian, who has little reason to have such a large fleet. Additionally, as Qatar gets their new 787-9s, they may be wanting to get rid of the -8s. They originally planned to send the -8s to Air Italy, but that plan has obviously been scrapped.

  6. If they can get them cheap, then it can make sense, but I would expect there to be enough of a used A330 market that they could get enough A330s to replace the 777s and then some for way less than buying a bunch of new 787s. All it takes is one hiccup that causes financing issues and suddenly they can’t get any more 787s, giving them 3 fleet types instead of 1.

  7. Italian taxpayers and holders of its bonds once again get screwed. AZ is a joke that keeps on giving us punch lines.

  8. @Enrico
    I understand that the discounted price of a new A350 is almost double that of a B787 — it’s a much higher quality plane.

    If you don’t actually need an A350 and you don’t care so much about pax comfort, the B787 makes more financial sense.

    Though I can’t believe I’m posting a justification for Alitalia‘s proposal based on “financial sense”.

  9. It’s the right move. You need the efficiency of the dreamliners to survive the next 10 years. Otherwise you’ll end up like South African Airways with dozens of inefficient aircraft.

  10. Are they keeping their existing A320ceo fleet or ordering new A320neo? I would assume the latter since their short haul fleet is past typical mid life and Airbus may offer tempting discounts combined with an A220 order to replace the A319s and Embraers. Although it still seems a bit ambitious for Alitalia to initiate a total fleet renewal.

  11. @Lucky, the current Italian government is actually a pretty responsible and competent one. This seems like a good plan that will, in the future, cut costs for Alitalia and help the airline to project a more modern image. Also, when the coronavirus pandemic is over, I suspect there will be quite a bit of “revenge travel” to Italy, which will greatly benefit Alitalia in the absence of Air Italy. The future is bright for Alitalia!

  12. I said exactly this in the last post when it was being renationalised. They’re in one of the best positions now for ordering new aircraft as they’ve got the capital (from the government) and leverage with Boeing and Airbus (for a discount); as they’re desperate for near future orders and to fill production slots from other airlines deferring orders. I just wonder wonder what will happen to they’re old planes (as the market will be flooded with them)?

  13. Sounds a lot like LOT Polish Airlines about 15 years ago…

    Actually worked pretty well for them. Not surprised to see US big 3 doing something similar (787 for UA/AA and A350 for DL)

  14. Outside of Covid, which hopefully will end some day or at least become manageable, I would think the 787 would be a great plane for Alitalia’s International ops. Its’ highly fuel efficient and is sized to make routes profitable which otherwise might not be. Also, using 1 model heavy jet means better and cheaper maintenance. If they can buy them with OPM, than even better.

  15. It makes perfect sense actually. With the current overcapacity in the market, there are plenty of new(ish) aircraft in need of customers. I’m sure the leasing companies will offer very sharp rates.

  16. If you read the Italian media, the fleet selection was rather based on whether the planes are at least partly manufactured in Italy. Apparently, the 787 has a rather significant number of parts from Italy and so does the 220 and 320. For me, this obviously means they are interested in new planes, because only new planes have an effect on employment at Italian suppliers.

  17. The notion that air lines follow free market rules is a fiction in and of itself – here in Georgia the tax payers subsidize Delta’s fuel and allow a virtual monopoly use of our airport by Delta. I can’t fly a decent airline like Singapore or Qatar from the worlds busies airport (Atlanta) to New York, or anywhere in the US because ‘its not allowed’. Heck, I cant even fly Delta to New York to buy cheaper international tickets because they require Atlanta residents to pay 40-60% more for tickets because competition isn’t allowed. So don’t worry about state subsidies. All countries do it for their favorite carriers.

    When I get the chance to fly Al Italia I do, because I always enjoy the experience. Its authentically Italian and a lot of fun. Long may they continue!

  18. Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just buy A330-900neo?

    They already operate A330-200. Which mean that transition, training and maintenance would be cheaper.

    The 251t variants would be able to do lots of missions that B787-9 could.

  19. Alitalia would benefit Greatly by distancing themselves from Any of the Skyteam Carriers and would be more successful in ONEWORLD or STAR . Italy is a Preferred Destination for American Travellers and aligning with ONEWORLD and AA , the Key Alitalia North American Destinations are served in BOS/NY/DC/ORD/MIA/LAX and SFO and the AA Network would help. STAR would be a reasonable Option but I do not think Lufthansa wants to compete with Alitalia In the Market, they just want the Italian Market. Skyteam was never a good fit for them.

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