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ITA Airways Launches Route to Chicago, Sets Sights on Financial Revival

The airline has launched its first flight to Chicago, buoyed by a promising 2023 financial report and optimistic about its merger with the Lufthansa Group

by Enrique Perrella

April 8, 2024

Photo: Courtesy of ITA Airways

ITA Airways, the flag carrier of Italy that succeeded Alitalia in 2021, has launched the inaugural flight to its newest destination in North America – Chicago O’Hare International Airport.

The inaugural flight took off from Chicago at 3:00 p.m. local time, marking the beginning of this eagerly anticipated route served by the airline’s newest Airbus A330neo aircraft.

The new service between the airline’s hub in Rome-Fiumicino Airport and O’Hare reinforces the airline’s commitment to expanding its long-haul connectivity, particularly in North America, where it plans to resume services to key destinations previously serviced by Alitalia. Among these destinations are Toronto and Chicago, which are vital markets for the airline’s international operations.

Photo: ITA Airways, Airbus A330-900neo. Courtesy of ITA Airways.

The airline’s Chief Commercial Officer, Emiliana Limosani—who spoke to Business Traveler in February to celebrate the second anniversary of Volare, the airline’s frequent flyer program—emphasized the significance of this new route, stating, “We are proud to launch the new nonstop flight between Chicago and Rome. This expansion consolidates our presence in North America and underscores our dedication to serving both leisure and business travelers, including the vibrant Italian community in the Midwest.”

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held at O’Hare to mark the first flight. The event was attended by important figures such as Thomas Botzios (Consul General of Italy in Chicago) and Amber Ritter (Managing Deputy Commissioner and Chief Commercial Officer for the Chicago Department of Aviation).

Consul General Botzios expressed his enthusiasm, highlighting this flight’s cultural and economic significance, especially for the Italian-American community in the Midwest. “This new connection brings Italy even closer to the heart of the United States, fostering closer ties between Rome and the American Midwest,” he said.

Chicago River and landmark buildings / Photo: Courtesy of Espiegle/iStock/Getty Images

Commissioner Jamie L. Rhee of the Chicago Department of Aviation also praised the development, acknowledging the importance of expanding air links between Chicago and global destinations. Rich Gamble, Interim President and CEO of Choose Chicago echoed this sentiment, emphasizing the role of air connectivity in sustaining Chicago’s status as a premier international destination.

The new Chicago-Rome route will initially operate six times a week during the Summer of 2024, with plans to increase daily flights by June. Furthermore, ITA Airways is set to expand its intercontinental network with additional routes to Toronto, Riyadh, Accra, Kuwait City, Dakar, and Jeddah.

ITA Airways’ growth strategy is underpinned by a commitment to showcase the best of Italian hospitality and design. The airline collaborates with prestigious Italian brands like Brunello Cucinelli for crew uniforms and Walter De Silva for aircraft interiors, ensuring passengers experience an authentically Italian journey.

Financial Turning Point

ITA Airways has recently achieved a significant milestone by no longer operating at a loss, indicating a shift towards profitability and stepping out of the shadows of Alitalia, which had operated at a loss for over a decade before closing down.

The airline attributes its new path to profitability to strategic efforts towards financial sustainability, the acquisition of new aircraft, and the rejuvenation of its fleet. With a workforce of 4,667 employees, the airline is well-positioned for further growth and expansion.

Photo: Business Class seat, ITA Airways, Airbus A330neo. Courtesy of ITA Airways.

At a press conference held at the airline’s headquarters in Fiumicino, CEO Antonino Turicchi shared some insights into the airline’s financial performance. In 2023, ITA Airways transported 15 million passengers and generated €2.4 billion in revenue, with €2.1 billion coming from passenger transport and €300 million from cargo and charter operations. These figures align with earlier projections, and revenues are expected to climb to €3.4 billion in the current year.

The airline’s intercontinental flights have significantly contributed to its financial performance, generating €1 billion in revenue in 2023. This segment has also achieved a positive operating result, highlighting the airline’s ability to capitalize on long-haul routes effectively.

Lufthansa-ITA Airways Merger Update

Talking about expansion, ITA Airways is eager to capitalize on expansion opportunities, particularly in anticipation of the Jubilee Year 2025, which is projected to bring 30 million travelers by air. However, Turicci underscores the importance of joining forces with a larger group to realize its growth ambitions and fully leverage this landmark event’s potential.

Turicchi emphasized the necessity of European Union Antitrust approval for Lufthansa’s entry into the Italian carrier, citing the strategic imperative of being part of a larger conglomerate to facilitate expansion plans and capitalize on market opportunities effectively.

Photo: Courtesy of Enrique Perrella / kjpargeter

ITA Airways faces a significant regulatory hurdle as it navigates its proposed merger with Lufthansa. Despite the challenges, the Italian flag carrier is steadfast in its commitment to the merger, as it sees it as crucial to its long-term strategic objectives.

Turicchi emphasized the airline’s dedication to the merger plan, which has received support from the Italian government and Lufthansa. “There is no plan B; let’s move forward with Lufthansa,” said Turicchi, underlining the company’s belief in the proposed merger.

Lufthansa aims to acquire a 41 percent stake in ITA Airways from the Italian Treasury for €325 million ($352 million). However, the deal faces scrutiny from the European Commission due to antitrust concerns.

The regulatory body has raised preliminary objections, citing potential restrictions on competition and fare increases on specific routes within Italy and beyond.

In response to these concerns, ITA Airways and Lufthansa are diligently working on remedies to address regulatory challenges, with a looming deadline of April 26.

While the European Commission’s decision is anticipated by June 6, Turicchi hinted at the possibility of a delay until the end of June.

Photo: Lufthansa Group airlines. Courtesy of Lufthansa

According to Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera, new reports suggest potential adjustments to the ownership structure, including a reduction of Lufthansa’s stake to 19.9 percent and an increase in the Ministry of Economy and Finance’s share to 80.1 percent. However, such alterations may limit ITA Airways’ ability to fully capitalize on the anticipated commercial and industrial synergies offered by Lufthansa.

Despite regulatory uncertainties, ITA Airways remains optimistic about the benefits of the merger, particularly in enhancing its competitiveness and expanding its global reach. The proposed partnership with Lufthansa aligns with ITA Airways’ strategic vision, positioning the airline for sustained growth and success in the dynamic aviation industry.