Milan : Emirates airline Etihad Airways tied up a deal to rescue debt-laden carrier Alitalia on by taking 49.0 per cent of the Italian company. The two groups gave no details of the value of the deal or of any conditions, but two key issues are huge debt and overstaffing at Alitalia which has lurched from crisis to crisis for years.

The deal, concluding tough negotiations which began at the end of last year, means that Etihad Airways is in effect rescuing Alitalia, playing a role which Air France once considered but then dropped because of the scale of the problems.

The agreement also marks a big step in the rise of Etihad Airways a young and rapidly growing company, which becomes a key shareholder in one of the old names of European aviation, and increases its reach into European markets and global routes.

Alitalia is now in the hands of private shareholders, but has its roots in the days when most European countries had their own state-owned airlines.

In recent years it has lurched from crisis to crisis, skirting bankruptcy, and beset by restructuring efforts and conflicts with staff. Alitalia employs 12,800 and it is believed that about 2,200 jobs will have to be axed.   -AFP

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