Abu Dhabi-based carrier Etihad was rarely out of the aviation headlines in 2014, mainly due to the reveal of its remarkable Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 cabin interiors. January 2015 has brought some more exciting news from the airline though: the first details of its plans for Alitalia, in which it has invested €560m for a 49% stake (as part of an overall €1.76bn package with other investors).
At a press conference in Rome there was much talk of restructuring, new routes and cost-saving measures that the partners hope will take the airline from its history of financial losses and government bailouts, to posting a €100m profit by 2017.
As James Hogan, president and CEO of Etihad (pictured left) stated at the event, “Alitalia as a brand, as an airline, is one of the innovators in aviation, but it’s a poor business. It has lacked clear direction, it has had losses in the past, there has been a public utility mentality and no real improvements in the business. And that’s the opportunity moving forward. We wouldn’t have stepped in to this airline if we didn’t consider Alitalia could once again be a successful business.”
He added, “But there should be no doubts at all: we have made a commercial investment that must deliver a commercial return.
The plan involves creating a five-star passenger experience through a focus on people, service, product and brand. As Alitalia’s recently appointed chairman, Luca di Montezemolo, said, “Alitalia has to become a sexy company.” He has a little experience in creating a sexy brand (and indeed product) from his previous role as chairman of Ferrari.
As part of the plan, Alitalia’s fleet will be restructured, with 14 A320s being sold to Airberlin, and more wide-bodies added, including some possible transfers from Etihad’s orderbook. These aircraft will also receive a new livery intended to convey ‘the essence of Italy’, enhanced food and beverage service, new-look lounges in Rome, Milan Malpensa and Milan Linate, and new aircraft interiors.
New aircraft interiors
We asked an Alitalia official for further details on the interiors plans, but at this stage they were only able to state that, “The wi-fi connection on our flights and the new aircraft interiors and the new brand are the future steps of Alitalia”, adding that further detail will be revealed in the coming months.
An interesting point to note is that Alitalia’s long-haul business class upgrades will have something in common with that of Etihad: they are both moving from the Sogerma Solstys model (pictured right in Alitalia’s current Magnifica long-haul business cabin). Considering the bold move Etihad made in specifying bespoke Sogerma ‘Business Suites’ on its A380 interiors, which offer 20% more passenger space than the standard Solstys model, this could be an interesting space to watch as the Alitalia story unfolds, especially as business-class customers will be critical to the airline’s future success.
The long-haul fleet will also have inflight connectivity, and Silvano Cassano, CEO of Alitalia has mentioned that he hopes the airline’s synergy with Etihad will help them negotiate with suppliers such as Panasonic (Etihad is flying Panasonic eX3 IFE systems in its newest aircraft).
Another key aspect of the new Alitalia is enhancements in its service, with a focus on a ‘customer-first culture’. Quality of service will be ensured by a new ‘Customer Excellence Training Academy’ where skills will be taught to all customer-facing staff. As Cassano, stated, “Our priority is to put the customer at the center of everything we do.”
Staff will also be a little more glamorous in the future, with a range of new uniforms in the pipeline. Again, no details have been released yet, but perhaps Italian Haute Couturier Ettore Bilotta could in the running as the designer, having just designed Etihad’s new range of uniforms.
Speaking of the service aspects, di Montezemelo (pictured left) stated that, “Nowadays, in a world that is characterized by fierce competition, Alitalia has to provide high-quality service. Alitalia has to view its customers as the most important thing, together with product. Customers have to be seen as guests, people who deserve our utmost attention, people who deserve innovative services onboard and on the ground. We have to provide high-quality services to our customers in order to give them the utmost satisfaction. When you invite somebody over for dinner you always try to offer them best, and that is one of our priorities.
“ There are exciting times ahead for Alitalia, and we will be closely following the airline’s progress. Especially as Hogan says – and it’s that word again – “I believe Alitalia can be the sexiest brand in Europe in aviation.”