DALLAS – Today in Aviation, the first Alitalia-Aerolinee Italiane Internazionali (AZ) flight took off bound for its domestic destination in 1947. On May 5, a three-engine Fiat G-12C Alcione bearing registration I-DALH lined up at Turin-Aeritalia Airport’s (TRN) runway.
The Fiat G-121CA aircraft, on loan from the Italian Air Force since April 17, 1947, is under the helm of Captain Virginio Reinero, and the destination of the flight is Rome-Ciampino Airport (CIA) and Catania Fontanarossa Airport (CTA).
The type carries a total of 18 persons, crew included, and it will take just over two hours to complete the first leg of the flight. For comparison, time spent in the air for the route would be just over an hour.
First International Flight
Alitalia became international on July 6, 1947. A Savoia Marchetti SM-95, a four-engine workhorse and the backbone of postwar Italian civil aviation under the command of captain Valentino Pivetti, flies from CIA to Oslo (OSL today FBU at the time) and carries a Norwegian ship crew of 38 persons.
The airline’s intercontinental venture starts in March 1948 when AZ acquires several (4) four engines Avro Lancastrian 691 MK3, an aircraft derived from the Avro Lancaster bomber coming from the British Royal Air Force (RAF). One more joins the AZ fleet in 1949.
Flying to the Americas
The first long-haul service, operated in March 1948, is a 36 hours long flight from Milan (MXP), CIA, Dakar (DKR) Natal (NAT), Rio de Janeiro (GIG), Sao Paulo-Viracopos (VCP), Buenos Aires (EZE), seated in an uncomfortable and very noisy aircraft, the Avro-Lancastrian. At the time no one would have filed a complaint on this condition and customer service would not even give attention to such a complaint.
Alitalia was not alone in the Italian skies, which were shared with an older and larger carrier-L.A.I. Linee Aeree Italiane-until 1957, when the Italian Institute for Industrial Reconstruction (IRI), owner of both airlines, decided on a merger, giving birth to Alitalia-LAI, which flew until 2008. AZ has a fleet of 37 aircraft and a workforce of 3000 employees, and AZ ranks 12th among international airlines.
The CEOs of Old
The first Chairman of the Board was a former Italian ambassador, Giuseppe de Micheli, who headed AZ from 1946 to 1948.
He was followed by Niccolo Carrandini, with Bruno Velani as the company’s General Manager, who became AZ’s new CEO from 1964 until 1968, when he took over as Chairman of the Board and remained in that position until 1978.
Bruno Velani was the real maker of AZ, which he led through its golden age and the Italian economic boom, bringing the airline among the top ten world carriers, purchasing aircraft, and hiring staff so that AZ could take full advantage of the 1960 Olympic Games held in Rome.
At the time, AZ reaches one million passengers carried.
The Golden Age
Alitalia’s fleet improved and changed. Fiat, Savoia Marchetti and Avro Lancastrian exit the scene. The merger with LAI had already brought in the first Douglas commercial aircraft, the DC4, soon followed by the DC3, DC6B, DC7C, and Convair 240, 340, and 440.
The fleet was further modernized by the introduction of the Vickers Viscount 785 turboprop aircraft. In 1950, in-flight service was added, hostesses were on board, and hot meals were served.
In 1969, with the adoption of the Sud Aviation Caravelle and the Douglas DC8-43, AZ became an all-jet airline and modernization continued with the arrival of the Douglas DC9, Boeing 727, Boeing 747, and Douglas DC10.
Before changing to its modern “three-color A” livery, AZ aircraft sported five blue lines running along the fuselage – nicknamed the “music paper” – with the legacy AZ brand over it and a full tail logo representing the Italian flag. The brand logo is composed of an arrow and a wing-shaped bow, in Italian ” la Freccia Alata” (the Winged Arrow).
A Turn of the Page
At the end of the 60s, AZ had a 10,000-strong workforce and a network spanning over 70 countries on five continents.
The airline also has an average earning of US$234m (ITL140bn), ranks 7th place among IATA world airlines, and is in third place in Europe behind BOAC (now British Airways – BA), and Air France (AF). The Boeing 747-100 joins the fleet and AZ becomes the first European all-jet airline.
However, the dream years begin to fade by the end of the 70s as deregulation, the oil crisis, labor costs, and widespread social unrest bring AZ’s golden age to a halt. With ongoing workers’ strikes, 1979 saw one of the hardest years in Italy’s labor history, which inevitably caused a disastrous situation for the carrier.
The Modern CEOs
Chairmen and CEOs changed their tune to harmonize with the political group heading the government. Nordio, Romiti, Bisignani, the short-lived Verri, and Schisano followed one another without being able to set a stable course for AZ. Thus, annual results fell into the red for a long time and 1985 was the last year a large fleet renewal took place.
In the mid-90s, a new CEO takes over, Domenico Cempella, well-known within AZ since he started his career as a check-in agent at Rome’s CIA, and made his way to the top. He was the first to introduce a real restructuring action aimed at building strong partnerships. During this period, Alitalia launches the frequent flyer program, MilleMiglia.
Domenico Cempella, who passed away in April 2021, created a High Competitive Carrier (HCC), probably a European predecessor of today’s low-cost carriers. Cempella also branded AZ with new aircraft and lower costs, particularly in regard to its flight personnel. The CEO launched the Malpensa (MXP) 2000 project to create a new hub in MXP and cover northern Italy.
In addition, Cempella began a strong partnership with KLM (KL) with the aim of finalizing a merger and creating a European-sized carrier. Business seemed to have picked up again and AZ was on a positive track with revenues flying high, but 1996 saw the last positive results on AZ’s balance sheet.
The Dark Years and Future of Alitalia
Politics, both local and national, brought Malpensa 2000 project to an early end, the KL deal sank and finally ended in a court case that took many years to resolve.
Alitalia joined the Skyteam alliance in 2001, but the carrier had already entered a spiraling descent that ended with the 2008 bankruptcy, and with that, the beginning of AZ’s well-known recent history, one whose writing has not yet ended.
The Heir to the Throne
In April 2021, a revised plan presented by a troika of Italian ministers foresaw the renouncing of the historical brand, meaning that AZ would, at best, go into storage or into final retirement. The end of the historic airline brand also saw heavy restructuring and reduction of activity, staff, and fleet, along with a downgraded revision of investments and revenues foreseen by the new business plan.
In detail, the restructuring plan adopted to meet stringent requests by the European Commission touched on the 75-year-old AZ brand. The NewCo and heir to AZ was to be ITA-Italia Trasporto Aereo. The restructuring left the possibility for ITA to participate in an open tender for the sale of AZ assets, which it ultimately did.
On October 15, 2021, the new Italian flag carrier ITA Airways was born in Rome with a “startup DNA” that looked to efficiency and innovation. It would keep to AZ callsign.
The first ITA Airways flight, an Airbus A320 numbered AZ 1637, departed on that same day from Milan Linate Airport (LIN) at 6:20 am and landed at Bari airport at 7:45 am all local times. At the helm the Commander Fabrizio Campolucci.
Featured image; Italian Air Force Fiat G.12. Photo: Němeček, Václav. Fiat G-12, L+K 1987/21. Marchi, Italo de. Les Fiat G.12, Le fanatique de l’aviation 1982/155-157.