As the Italian government again extended a deadline on bailout talks to save struggling airline Alitalia, Lufthansa's chief jetted into Rome to voice his airline’s interest in snapping up a share of the Italian carrier.
Alitalia loses about three million euros a day and has a debt of about 1.2 billion euros
Lufthansa chief executive Wolfgang Mayrhuber travelled to Italy on Friday to hold discussions with four major unions backing the billion-euro ($1.45 billion) rescue deal.
Later, the ANPAV flight attendants' union became the fifth of nine unions to sign up to the bailout deal. In response, the Italian government decided to let a second deadline lapse in a bid to give the four remaining unions representing Alitalia's workforce a chance still to come on board.
"Negotiations continue (and) the hands of the clock have been stopped," a government official told reporters.
Two other flight attendants unions said they would spend the weekend mulling whether to accept the rescue package proposed by the private Italian consortium, the Italian Air Company (CAI). Together, AVIA and SDL represent some 2,500 air stewards and hostesses.
Two unions representing 1,400 pilots were still in talks on Friday as the government endeavoured to win unanimous backing for the Italian CAI investor group deal.
Italian Labour Minister Maurizio Sacconi told ANSA news agency that the deal could, however, go ahead without the agreement of all unions. Unanimous approval "would be important ... but I think CAI can pursue its course in any case," he said.
The issues in dispute range from pay for ground crew and leave, to temporary work contracts.
The Italian civil aviation authority had said it would ground Alitalia unless a bailout plan had been agreed by Thursday, but that threat has not been followed up.
Lufthansa chief meets with Italian unions
Lufthansa, which this week moved to take over Belgian flag carrier Brussels Airlines, has frequently been seen as a potential saviour for stumbling Alitalia, despite insisting in the past it was not interested.
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had pledged to keep Alitalia in Italian hands
Officials from the German airline would not comment on its supposed interest in Alitalia, but confirmed that Mayrhuber was in Rome on the Italian government's invitation to discuss the Italian flag carrier's precarious situation, a spokeswoman for Lufthansa said in Frankfurt.
UIL union leader Luigi Angeletti confirmed Mayrhuber had expressed Lufthansa's interest in Alitalia during his meeting with union representatives.
Industry sources said Lufthansa is mulling whether to take a 20 percent stake in Alitalia, according to news agency Reuters. A separate union source said the German airline was interested in an even bigger stake.
Rival Air France-KLM is also seeking an alliance with Alitalia. It is said to be looking to gain as much as a 25 percent stake in the CAI consortium. The holding company attempted earlier this year to buy Alitalia, but the deal collapsed amid union opposition.