Reports: Prodi Says He Thinks Alitalia Will Have a Buyer by Christmas

ROME_Italy's premier believes troubled national carrier Alitalia SpA would find a buyer by Christmas, according to news reports Tuesday.

The government has been struggling to sell its 49.9 percent stake in Alitalia, for which potential suitors include Germany's Deutsche Lufthansa AG, Air France-KLM and Air One, Italy's No. 2 carrier by number of passengers after Alitalia.

On Sunday, Lufthansa CEO Wolfgang Mayrhuber was quoted as saying in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper that the airline would likely decide by the end of the year whether to make a bid for Alitalia.

Asked by journalists Tuesday if a Christmas timeframe was accurate for finding a potential partner, Premier Romano Prodi responded: "I think so," the ANSA and Apcom news agencies reported.

A tender organized by the government was scrapped in July after all the potential buyers gradually pulled out, saying the terms were too stringent. After the auction collapsed, the government appointed a new chairman, Maurizio Prato, to lead the airline, with the specific goal of finding a buyer.

Alitalia has been hurt by high operating and fuel costs, stiff competition from budget airlines and persistent labor unrest. Its net loss widened to €626 million (US$917.34 million) in 2006 from €168 million (US$246.19 million) a year earlier after it booked a hefty write-down to cover the depreciation in value of its aging fleet.