Featured image courtesy: Diego Meozzi/Azfleet.info

5/05/1947: First Flight of Alitalia–Linee Aeree Italiane

DALLAS – Today, in 1947, the first Alitalia–Linee Aeree Italiane (AZ) flight took off bound for its domestic destination. On May 5 of that year, 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. 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.

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 started in March 1948 when AZ acquired 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 joined the AZ fleet in 1949.

Alitalia savoia Marchetti SM95 I-DALM – Photo: Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Flying to the Americas

The first long-haul service, operated in March 1948, was a 36-hour 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.

Alitalia Avro Lancastrian 691 I-DALR – Photo : Jennifer Gradidge, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The CEOs of Old

The board’s first Chairman 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 reached the one million passenger milestone.

Alitalia Douglas DC-8 at London Heathrow Airport in August 1960. Photo: RuthAS – Own work, CC BY 3.0

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 DC-4, soon followed by the DC-3, DC-6B, DC-7C, and Convair 240, 340, and 440. The fleet was further modernized by introducing the Vickers Viscount 785 turboprop aircraft. In 1950, AZ added an in-flight service, with flight attendants 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. 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 was composed of an arrow and a wing-shaped bow, in Italian,” la Freccia Alata” (the Winged Arrow).

Alitalia Douglas Commercial DC4 I-DALU. Photo courtesy: Diego Meozzi/Azfleet.info

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 began to fade by the end of the 70s as deregulation, the oil crisis, labor costs, and widespread social unrest halted AZ’s golden age. With ongoing workers’ strikes, 1979 saw one of the most challenging years in Italy’s labor history, which inevitably caused a disastrous situation for the carrier.

Alitalia B747-200 I-DEMF in Baci Perugina Livery – Photo: Aldo Bidini GFCL 1.2 via Wikimedia Commons

The Modern CEOs

Chairpersons 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 significant fleet renewal occurred.

In the mid-90s, a new CEO took 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 to build strong partnerships. During this period, Alitalia launched the frequent flyer program Mille Miglia.

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 regarding 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), intending to finalize a merger and create a European-sized carrier. Business picked up again, and AZ was upbeat, with revenues flying high, but 1996 saw the last positive results on AZ’s balance sheet.

The Dark Years

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.

Alitalia EI-DIR Airbus A330-200 (SkyTeam Livery). Photo: Lorenzo Giacobbo/Airways

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 show Alitalia's FIAT G-12CA I-DAHL boarding passengers at Turin-Aeritalia Airport for its first flight.

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