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Alitalia 3Q pretax loss gets narrow

Alitalia SpA's pretax loss narrowed slightly in the third quarter, but its prospects for getting a new owner are still unknown.

In a statement, Italy's largest airline said its pretax loss in the three months to Sept. 30 was cut to 57.6 million EUR(US$84.14 million) from 66.4 million EUR a year earlier amid continued tough competition from low-cost airlines and flight cancellations due to labor strikes.

But the market's real focus was on news of the Italian government's efforts to sell the state's stake in the loss-making carrier. Alitalia Chairman Maurizio Prato had said news would come by mid-November.

The government has been struggling to sell its 49.9 percent stake in Alitalia. 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 Prato, the third person this year to lead the airline, with the specific goal of finding a buyer for the ailing carrier.

Last month, Alitalia said it had six potential suitors, including leading European carriers Air France-KLM, Deutsche Lufthansa AG and Air One, Italy's No. 2 carrier by number of passengers after Alitalia.

Beset by high operating and fuel costs, stiff competition from budget airlines and persistent labor unrest, Alitalia's net loss widened to 626 million EUR in 2006 from 168 million EUR a year earlier after it booked a hefty write-down to cover the depreciation in value of its aging fleet.

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