Lufthansa (LH, Frankfurt International) CEO Carsten Spohr has said that the German carrier is unlikely to acquire a majority stake in ITA Airways (AZ, Rome Fiumicino). But he called Italy the second most important strategic aviation market in the world and confirmed that a minority stake is a probability.

Spohr told investors during a presentation of the airline’s 2021 full-year results not to worry about a full-blown takeover of the Alitalia successor, as holding a majority stake in ITA is “far away” from his intentions.

“We know what we’re doing in Italy, no worry. I hear my shareholders. Don’t worry, we know there is a legacy,” he said referring to the bankrupt former Italian flag carrier’s decades of losses which led to a complete overhaul and relaunch in October.

Lufthansa has teamed up with Swiss-Italian shipping giant and cruise line MSC in probing the possibilities of investing in ITA. Spohr touched on the origins of this partnership by saying: “The government linked us up with MSC, and they asked us for a blind date, and we fell in love.”

Gianluigi Aponte, the billionaire founder, owner, and chairman of MSC, recently clarified to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera that “the most important thing for us is to have a majority share in ITA Airways. The Germans can come in as a commercial partner or minority shareholder. We want to manage ITA, otherwise we wouldn’t be going into this deal. We don’t want to be a sleeping partner.”

But Spohr stressed in the investors’ meeting how vital Italy is to Lufthansa.

“All those who have been involved in the matter for a while will know that Italy is the most important international market for us in Europe, and it’s number two worldwide, second only to the US. So for us, Italy is of strategic importance and we believe that with our experience also with Air Dolomiti that Lufthansa Group is the right partner for it,” he said.

“So we’re having a dialogue with MSC Group and the partners involved [and] soon we’ll have a look at the data in the data room to see what it actually offers. And we will then decide which options are attractive for us: commercial, alliances, or investment activities for a minority share. That’s something we can only tell you once we get to the data room. But creating something between us, ITA, and MSC is our strategic goal.”

The Lufthansa chief executive has met MSC’s owners, the Aponte family, in person - something he saw as crucial for a project of this size, he said.

Lufthansa managed to improve its accounts during 2021, following the pandemic-afflicted previous year, recording a 24% rise in revenues to EUR16.81 billion euros (USD18.34 billion), of which EUR11.88 billion (USD12.96 billion) (+31%) came directly from air traffic. Adjusted EBITDA was still negative, however, and the net loss was EUR2.19 billion (USD2.39 billion) against a EUR6.73 billion (USD7.34 billion) loss in 2020.

Looking ahead, it is hard to predict 2022 due to geopolitical uncertainty, Lufthansa said, but it expects average capacity in 2022 to exceed 70% of 2019 levels, with bookings for Easter and summer already nearly reaching pre-pandemic levels. The company warned of the uncertainties “regarding the dramatic developments in Ukraine and the economic and geopolitical consequences of the conflict, as well as the remaining uncertainties about the progress of the pandemic,” preventing it from providing detailed guidance for the year ahead.