Alitalia Names Cramer Ball to Lead Revamp After Cassano Exit

  • Australian lured from Indian ally Jet to take over in March
  • Italian carrier heading up-market after Etihad-led bailout

Alitalia SpA appointed Cramer Ball, head of Indian ally Jet Airways, as its chief executive officer. He succeeds Silvano Cassano, who stood down in September after less than a year in charge of Italy’s biggest airline.

Ball, appointed CEO of Jet in May 2014, will take over at Alitalia next March, the Rome-based company said Thursday. The two carriers are linked by their membership of the seven-strong Equity Alliance developed by Etihad Airways PJSC, which owns 49 percent of Alitalia and 24 percent of Jet.

Ball will take forward Cassano’s plan to reposition Alitalia as a more upscale operator, differentiating the company from discount rivals as it targets a return to profit by 2017. The revamp is crucial to Etihad’s efforts to tap European traffic via affiliates that also include Air Berlin Plc and Air Serbia.

“Cramer is the right person to continue leading the development and implementation of our industrial plan, which is now well in motion,” Alitalia chairman Luca Cordero di Montezemolo said in a statement, adding that the 48-year-old was chosen after the company interviewed numerous candidates.

Seychelles Success

Ball, an Australian like Etihad CEO James Hogan, has had a 20-year career in aviation, Alitalia said. He has previously worked at Ansett Australia, Qantas Airways Ltd., Gulf Air of Bahrain and Etihad itself, before two years running Air Seychelles Ltd., in which Etihad has a 40 percent stake, where he oversaw a return to profit in 2012 and 2013.

At Alitalia, the strategy developed by Cassano involves dropping unprofitable short-haul routes in favor of intercontinental flights, upgrading technology and pampering customers with better food and seats, underpinned by the link to Etihad, which led a 1.76 billion-euro ($1.9 billion) rescue of the company.

Etihad’s plan for its alliance involves the sharing resources, joint loyalty programs and even joint aircraft purchases.

Cassano, a former Fiat SpA and Benetton Group SpA executive, who worked with Hogan at car-rental company Hertz in the 1990s, made a shock departure on Sept. 18, with Alitalia citing unspecified personal reasons. Chief Operations Officer Giancarlo Schisano and Chief Financial Officer Duncan Naysmith have been sharing day-to-day management duties since his exit.

Trained Accountant

Jet said earlier that Ball was leaving to pursue an opportunity in Europe “for family reasons.”

The Mumbai-based carrier, where the trained accountant formally took charge only in September after regulatory clearances, has posted profits in four of the last six quarters, helped by record-low fuel prices, after forecasting it would lose money until fiscal 2017. Jet named director Gaurang Shetty as acting-CEO.

Air Berlin, almost 30 percent owned by Etihad, has also undergone a series of management changes, most recently with Stefan Pichler brought in as the German carrier’s new CEO in February.

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