Alitalia Warns Strike Could Bankrupt Company

ROME (AP) -- Italian airline Alitalia SpA said Thursday that the latest strike by flight attendants could plunge the struggling carrier into bankruptcy.

''Around this time last year, Alitalia was close to bankruptcy,'' the state-controlled airline said in a paid statement published in four newspapers.

Wednesday's strike, which forced the airline to cancel at least 118 flights, ''risks plunging the company into crisis once again,'' it said.

The company is seeking to attract new private investors for a capital increase of 1.2 billion euros ($1.6 billion) later this year. Before it does so, the European Union is making sure its latest rescue plan doesn't contain state aid.

The flights canceled Wednesday involved travel to and from Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport and Milan's Malpensa airport.

The 24-hour strike was called by the flight attendants union SULT to press for contract renewal. Workers have been worried about the airline's restructuring plans, which include cutting some 3,700 jobs and separating its ground-service operations from its flight business.

This week's strike was the third since February by SULT. It angered many passengers, some of whom arrived at the airports unaware of the stoppage.

''It would be a paradox if we were to be defeated not because of external difficulties ... but due to the foolishness of a few,'' Alitalia said in its ads.

Alitalia has estimated its 2004 losses at 850 million euros ($1.14 billion) - nearly as big as its current market capitalization. The carrier reported a net loss of euro517 million euros ($694 million) for 2003 and has posted an annual profit only four times in the past 16 years.