Texas Pacific Group Grabs Iberia's Tailfin

The firm that turned around Continental and America West, now trying to buy Qantas, Iberia and Alitalia.

Aeroflot has teamed up with UniCredit, Italy's largest bank, to bid for most of the 49.9% stake in Alitalia held by the Italian finance ministry. It would be Aeroflot's first large investment outside the former Soviet Union, and fits the trend of Russian state-owned businesses making strategic investments in Europe.

Alitalia lost more than E400m last year, of which almost E130m came in the last quarter. It has posted a loss in six of the last seven years.

TPG's airline credentials are not in doubt. The group is a key shareholder in Ryanair, the Irish carrier where David Bonderman, TPG's co-founder, is chairman, and helped turn round America West, a regional US airline that has since merged with US Airways.

In 1993, TPG bailed out Continental, the loss-making US carrier, and initiated a recovery strategy under Gordon Bethune, a feisty former US Navy pilot who later described the results in a book, From Worst To First.

Bonderman, who became chairman of Continental, did not shy away from tough action of his own. Once, upon being served a bad meal on a Continental flight, he kept the meal and posted it to the airline's headquarters.

Poor airline catering came back to haunt Bonderman. TPG owned Gate Gourmet at the time of the hugely damaging Heathrow industrial action in 2005 (it has since sold its shares). But it was a rare slip from a man who understands the aviation industry better than most. As Europe's flag-carriers come up for grabs, TPG is unlikely to miss out on the action.

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