Alitalia, the feline airline with nine lives, may yet live, according to AP and Financial Times stories. (The FT lede says that the lack of a “Plan B” may keep Alitalia flying. In the real world, the lack of a Plan B means liquidation.) No one wants to buy this basket case of an airline, but Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi made keeping Alitalia Italian (and operating) a central item on his agenda. So, since all else seems to have failed, why doesn’t Berlusconi just buy the government stake in Alitalia himself? He’s Italy’s richest man, with a net worth of $12 billion — enough hardly to notice an investment of $600 million, which is what the last consortium was bidding.
Furthermore, aviation is an industry that attracts eccentric businessmen: Richard Branson, Donald Trump, Howard Hughes. Why not Silvio? Of course, it might be that he’s a shrewd enough businessman to recognize that Alitalia as currently constituted is a gaping money pit. Like most politicians, he’s happy to invest other people’s money in unprofitable but “patriotic” ventures. (See also: Henry Paulson, Barney Frank.)
All the same, I hereby call on Silvio Berlusconi either to pony up the cash for Alitalia or let this airline die a dignified death.