After it was disqualified during the first tender, Volotea (V7, Asturias) has now been awarded the seven-month territorial continuity Public Service Obligation (PSO) contract for services connecting Sardinia with mainland Italy.

The island's semi-autonomous government announced on October 13 that the Spanish low-cost carrier would take over the operation of all six routes according to the schedule on October 15. Tickets were put on sale on October 14.

Volotea said it would open a base at Alghero after it begins the PSO flights. It already has bases at Cagliari and Olbia, the other two airports in Sardinia.

"We are very satisfied with the result of this tender. Our interest in this region has been demonstrated throughout all these years of presence in Sardinia. We have transported more than 1.5 million passengers from Cagliari and more than two million from Olbia since 2012. These new six routes are a great opportunity to continue our objective of growth in this region," Chief Executive Carlos Muñoz said.

The decision represents a blow to ITA - Italia Trasporto Aereo (AZ, Milan Linate), which was the only other bidder. As reported previously, Volotea requested substantially lower subsidies on all six routes, ranging from 23.1% to 46.1% below the government's budget. In total, the authorities earmarked up to EUR37 million euros (USD42.8 million) for all six routes for a contract running through mid-May 2022.

Alitalia (AZ, Rome Fiumicino), the current operator of all six routes, ceased operations at the end of October 14. While ITA has been set up to replace Alitalia, it is a separate legal entity and does not automatically inherit any of Alitalia's contracts or assets.

The tender for subsidised services from each of the three Sardinian cities to Rome Fiumicino and Milan Linate was tumultuous. The first attempt at reallocating the contract ended inconclusively after both ITA and Volotea were excluded for procedural reasons. ITA could not prove it had a sufficient fleet to operate the routes, while Volotea's bid did not include the ID of its legal representative. A second tender was launched in early October. The deadline for submissions then had to be postponed from October 11 to October 12 due to an island-wide general strike, even as the authorities struggled to ensure there would be no interruption in connectivity once Alitalia goes out of business.

In a separate but related development, Volotea has challenged the terms of a new tender for PSO subsidies announced by the Recrea Asturias, a public company co-owned by the authorities of Gijón, Oviedo, and Avilés, the local entrepreneurs' association, and the cities' chambers of commerce. The tender launched in early September 2021 for the operation of five new routes (to London, Milan, Dusseldorf, Brussels, and Lisbon) and extra frequencies to the Barcelona metro area from Asturias has a budget of EUR7.7 million (USD8.9 million) for four years of flights, starting in the Summer 2022 season (except for the Milan and Lisbon links, which can begin in 2023).

The tender requires airlines to operate aircraft with more than 180 seats. Volotea, which operates 180-seat A320-200s, deemed this condition discriminatory. It also protested against the requirement that bidding airlines must operate a network of at least ten other routes from each of the international destinations. The carrier filed an objection with the Central Administrative Tribunal for Contractual Appeals (TACRC). The court has since ordered the tender's suspension pending its final judgement.

Volotea currently operates eight domestic routes from Asturias and a further three seasonal domestic services. In December, it will add a new route from the airport to Fuerteventura.