Ryanair firms Alitalia interest, as EasyJet boosts jobs

Relations between Ryanair and its pilots have entered a zone of turbulence. (AFP Photo/Olivier MORIN)

London (AFP) - Ryanair has made a "non-binding offer" for loss-making Italian rival Alitalia, the Irish no-frills carrier said Monday, as rival EasyJet said it plans to employ more than 1,200 new staff.

"We have made a non-binding offer for Alitalia. As the largest airline in Italy, it's important we are involved in the process," Ryanair said in a statement after Italian media said Friday that about ten such bids had been made.

The announcement comes as Ryanair on Monday logged soaring quarterly profits, aided by the timing of Easter, although the company noted that the outlook was clouded by Brexit.

British airline EasyJet will meanwhile recruit "more than 1,200 new permanent and fixed term cabin crew positions as the airline continues its growth", its Head of Cabin Service Tina Milton said in a statement Monday.

The positions are a mixture of new posts and jobs to be filled owing to natural staff turnover.

EasyJet is meanwhile believed to be among the companies to have shown an interest in taking over Alitalia, whose deadline for receiving non-binding offers had been last Friday.

Alitalia, which has struggled to compete with low-cost rivals including Ryanair, went into administration at the start of May, moving the flagship airline a step closer to liquidation as efforts continue to find a buyer.

About 18 companies expressing an interest in a potential purchase had reportedly been given access to the company's figures, including also Delta Airlines, British Airways and Lufthansa.

Italy's government in May said it would provide a bridging loan to keep Alitalia planes flying for around six months.

Those interested in making binding offers have until October.

If no buyer can be found, the administrators will have to organise Alitalia's winding-up, with the potential loss of 20,000 jobs at the company and among suppliers.

- Profits surge -

Ryanair added Monday that its net profit rallied 55 percent to 397 million euros ($463 million) in the three months to June 30 from a year earlier.

The performance was boosted by the timing of the Easter holiday.

Easter -- a peak-time for holidaymakers -- fell in April this year, inside Ryanair's reporting period. In 2016, it fell in March.

"We are pleased to report this 55-percent increase in profit after tax... but caution that the outcome is distorted by the absence of Easter in the prior year first-quarter," chief executive Michael O'Leary said in the earnings statement.

The Easter boost was partly offset by a Brexit-fuelled slump in the pound -- which reduces the amount Ryanair earns from its key British market once the currency is converted into euros.

However shares in both Ryanair and EasyJet ended the day down on fears of a possible price war after the Irish carrier warned it may cut fares.

In London, EasyJet shares tumbled 2.8 percent while in Dublin shares in Ryanair shed 1.1 percent.

Ryanair warned once again of the impact of Britain's looming exit from the European Union, set for March 2019.

The group has repeatedly forecast major disruption if Britain does not remain in the "Open Skies" agreement following its departure from the bloc.

Last Friday, Ryanair's chief commercial officer David O'Brien warned that the airline would slash flights between Britain and the EU if London and Brussels failed to agree on terms for post-Brexit air travel by September 2018.

"We remain concerned at the uncertainty which surrounds the terms of the UK's departure from the EU in March 2019," Ryanair said on Monday.

"We, like all airlines, seek clarity on this issue before we publish our summer 2019 schedule in the second quarter of 2018," it added.

EasyJet last week announced that it has secured an air operator's certificate in Austria to enable it to keep flying across the EU following Brexit.

Britain's airline industry has soared over the past two decades under the Single European Sky system, which lifted trade restrictions on EU airlines.

Unless British negotiators manage to secure preferential conditions, airlines could lose this status once the country leaves the EU.