Airbus (AIB, Toulouse Blagnac) is the front runner to win a contract worth around USD5.3 billion, discounts included, to provide 81 new-generation aircraft for the relaunched state-owned Alitalia (AZA, Rome Fiumicino) over a four-year period, the Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported on July 25.

However, executives at newco ITA - Italia Trasporto Aereo (Milan Linate) have yet to make a final decision and are also in talks with Boeing (BOE, Washington National), three unnamed sources close to the matter told the newspaper. The main obstacle to a deal with Toulouse could in fact be a counter-proposal from the US manufacturer - an “unprecedented” package with aircraft discounted by 60-70%, guaranteed maintenance for an “adequate” period, and free-of-charge pilot training.

After the start-up phase of operations, in which aircraft that the “old” Alitalia currently operates will be used, the fleet renewal will focus on leasing and not on purchases because the delivery agenda is so dense. Airbus and Boeing declined to comment on the issue.

As previously reported, ITA plans to start services on October 15 and will bid in a public tender for the Alitalia brand rather than simply inheriting it, one of the European Commission’s requirements for the deal.

The newco initially intends to fly with 52 aircraft, all or almost all of them from the current Alitalia fleet and subject to ongoing negotiations with the commission as part of the continuation of the aviation arm of the flag carrier. According to the daily, talks on these details have not yet started and are expected to be delicate because a number of aircraft will have to undergo periods of mandatory maintenance.

ITA has said that the introduction of new-generation aircraft is expected to begin from 2022, progressively replacing the older equipment. By 2025, it will increase its fleet to 105, 81 of which will be of the latest generation.

To “eliminate the complexity and inefficiencies deriving from operating aircraft from different manufacturers,” ITA plans to “converge on a single strategic partner” over the course of period of its industrial plan.

Currently, under short- and medium-haul, the Alitalia fleet is all Airbus - nineteen A319-100s, thirty-eight A320-200s, and five A321-100s, according to the ch-aviation fleets module. That excludes the ten E175s and five ERJ 190-100LRs in its regional division Alitalia CityLiner (CYL, Rome Fiumicino), expected to be dropped during the restructuring.

In its lucrative long-haul segment, however, half of the fleet are Airbus (eleven A330-200s) and half are Boeing (eleven B777-200ERs and one B777-300(ER)).

However, the sources said that theoretically it would take too long for pilots to “covert” from the A320 Family to the B737 MAX. Strategically, they added, for more distant destinations, twin-aisle Airbus widebodies suit Alitalia’s route network better than the Boeing equivalent. The sources surmised that the new fleet could consist of a dozen A220-300s, forty A320neo, five A321neo, and twenty-three A330neo and/or A350s, leased through AerCap or AirLease International. But Boeing will continue to put up a fight.