Rome’s airport operator said Deutsche Lufthansa AG would make an ideal partner for Italian flag carrier ITA Airways, with the German group’s multi-base strategy providing a boost to the city’s main Fiumicino hub.

ITA needs to team up with a larger carrier to boost revenue, while Fiumicino would benefit from being Lufthansa’s new interchange for southern Europe, Aeroporti di Roma SpA Chief Executive Officer Marco Troncone said.

“We are very positive about the Lufthansa business model,” Troncone said in an interview. “The company has extensive experience in dealing with post-crisis carriers and managing multiple hubs.” He added that ITA will remain a key partner with which Aeroporti di Roma will continue to profitably work regardless of the outcome of the sale process.

Italy wants binding bids for ITA by Monday as it seeks an equity backer for the successor to failed Alitalia. Lufthansa and container line Mediterranean Shipping Co. form one of three groups that had expressed an interest earlier this month. Also in the running is a consortium of Delta Air Lines Inc., Air France-KLM and U.S. fund Certares, plus Wizz Air Holdings Plc investor Indigo Partners.

Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr has long said that Rome would become the group’s fifth hub after any deal in Italy, alongside its Frankfurt, Munich, Zurich and Vienna bases. MSC, the No. 1 container line and flush with cash after a cargo boom, is leading the bid, though Lufthansa could take a small holding.

The Italian government aims to conclude a sale by the end of June, Finance Minister Daniele Franco told lawmakers on May 10.

Traffic Boost

Troncone said that a Lufthansa-ITA combination would bolster Fiumicino’s status as a long-haul hub from the Mediterranean region to North America, Asia and Middle East, while also boosting domestic markets.

Rome’s location in central Italy puts it beyond the immediate catchment areas of Lufthansa’s Munich hub, which has competed with more northerly airports including those in Milan.

“ITA needs to join forces with a bigger company, multiply its sales through a good code-sharing program,” Troncone said before the opening of a new boarding area at Fiumicino capable of handling 6 million passengers a year that was constructed as part of a 400 million-euro ($421 million) upgrade.

Expansion Plan

Aeroporti di Roma owner Atlantia SpA has approved an 8 billion-euro expansion plan that would allow Fiumicino to deal with more than 90 million passengers a year by 2046, after attracting 40 million before the coronavirus pandemic.

Summer tourism to Rome is looking solid, Troncone said, with airlines offering about 80% of pre-pandemic seating, despite ITA’s own capacity being only 40% of that provided by Alitalia. North American bookings are up about 15% on 2019, though traffic from China is still “virtually zero” amid the latest lockdown.

“Wherever restrictions are lifted there’s a robust return of travelers,” he said.