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Air France-KLM in ‘‘exploratory’’ merger talks with Alitalia
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Air France-KLM in ‘‘exploratory’’ merger talks with Alitalia 

Paris, Nov. 23 (UNI)

The chief executive of Air France-KLM, Jean-Cyril Spinetta, said Thursday that his company had opened ‘‘a stage of exploratory talks’’ with the troubled Italian carrier Alitalia about a possible merger. The talks concerned three points, Spinetta told journalists in Paris, the eventual success of Alitalia’s restructuring, a similarity of ‘‘visions of strategy and the future’’ between the companies and ‘‘what would be the synergies’’ of a merger. ‘‘It is only if and when we have positive responses to these points that we will be able to ask our board of directors for authorization to open talks with Alitalia,’’ Spinetta said.

Alitalia and Air France-KLM already collaborate in the air transport alliance Skyteam, and Spinetta said he was convinced that bringing the two companies even closer would ‘‘create value.’’

In an interview published Thursday in the daily Le Figaro, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said he had ‘‘many doubts’’ about the intentions of Air France-KLM regarding Alitalia. ‘‘Does it want to create a large European air transport group in which Italy will also have its place or simply conquer the Italian market, which is big and rich?’’ Prodi said.

Earlier this month, Alitalia announced that its net losses for 2007 would be greater than the 167 million euros (currently 215 million dollars) the company had lost last year. Spinetta revealed the plans during a presentation of Air France-KLM’s results for the second quarter and first half of its fiscal year 2006-2007. In the first half of the fiscal year, the the Franco-Dutch carrier’s comparable net profits rose by 50.7 per cent to 618 million euros over the same period last year. However, when the effects of the sale last year of its Amadeus booking system are taken into account, earnings actually fell by 211 million euros, the company said in a press statement.

Turnover for the period, which ended September 30, was up 10.3 per cent to 11.93 billion euros, while earnings before interest and taxes (EBIT) increased by 30.5 per cent to 979 million euros. Second-quarter comparable profits climbed by a robust 25.5 per cent over the same period last year, to 568 million euros, on turnover of 6.13 billion euros, up by 8.8 per cent. However, Air France-KLM stocks were down sharply in early trading on the Paris Bourse, slipping by 6.46 per cent to 30.14 euros.

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