1961 – 1972 The economic boom and the birth of Aeritalia

The history trail

Leaving electronics

Between 1952 and 1962 the Italian national income doubled and industrial manufacturing increased by an average of 6%. This period, until 1963, was known as the “economic miracle”, and brought significant investment in production and rapid industrialisation. The crisis of 1964 was yet to come, bringing with it an increase in labour costs, a reduction in productivity and margins, a drop in investments and a slowdown in domestic demand. In this situation, it was essential for Finmeccanica to rethink its strategies and re-examine the sectors where it had a presence, confirming the need for a larger “size” to sustain competition and greater “specialisation” to concentrate resources on just the key sectors. This meant that Finmeccanica no longer controlled the railway companies (sold to EFIM), and electronics companies, including Selenia and Elsag (sold to STET); electro-mechanical companies were acquired and some marginal industrial activities transferred, sometimes after rationalisation operations intended to safeguard the future of the businesses and attract the interest of private investors. At the beginning of the Seventies, Finmeccanica had profoundly changed its appearance as the structure was now composed of a smaller number of industry sectors: automotive (with Alfa Romeo), thermo-electrical-mechanical (with Ansaldo) and aerospace (with Aeritalia), where the Group had reached considerable sizes and invested huge financial and professional resources.

The reorganisation of Ansaldo

In 1962 the electricity industry was nationalised, marking the boom in the electro-mechanical industry, while shipbuilding fell in an irreversible crisis. In this new situation Finmeccanica began, in 1966, a complete restructuring of Ansaldo, focussing on energy and plant design. A decision was taken to give up shipbuilding once and for all; this passed to Italcantieri (Trieste), and a series of acquisitions began in the thermo-electrical-mechanical sectors. The purpose was to create a single complex to lead the market in the production of facilities and machinery for energy, industry and electrified transport, and to address the demanding national public investment programmes in these sectors arising from the National Energy Plan; such Plan, launched in 1975, provided for significant development of the electronuclear component and the nationalisation of the electricity industry with the setting-up of Enel in 1962. From the Sixties, Ansaldo also entered the nuclear sector by setting up various companies specialising in nuclear engineering, including Ansaldo Meccanico Nucleare (1966) and NIRA (1972); therefore, Ansaldo very soon became the only Italian pole for manufacturing and plant design in the sector.

The birth of Aeritalia

At the end of the Sixties, the Italian Government decided to launch an ambitious project: setting up a large company with a leading role in the aeronautics and space sector, with high technological content and significant prospects for growth. To put this plan into place, in 1969 FIAT and Finmeccanica focussed their best resources on this sector and created an important industrial complex (8,000 people), although it was still small compared to the large international players and too closely linked to the military sector (which then provided 90% of the revenue). The company was formed by the merger of Aerfer, FIAT’s Aviation Section, which was joined some years later by the Space Section, and Salmoiraghi avionics business. Aeritalia was successful in its attempt to create a single strategy and give the prospect of growth to diverse companies which were not fully in synch with one another, although they had significant industrial traditions and technologies. It soon became a strategic company in the Italian system, with a leading role for the national economy, competing on a global level, also with regard to innovation, research, and development. The activities spanned the whole field of the aerospace sector: combat aircraft, civil and military transport aircraft, aircraft structures, avionics systems, equipment, aircraft engines, radio controls, satellites and space systems.

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Year Company sold Acquired by
1958 Aghi Zebra San Giorgio Torrington
1960 OMSSA Sofis
1961 Fotomeccanica Private buyers
1963 Ates Stet
1968 Avis Efim
1968 Omeca Efim
1968 Aerfer Pozzuoli Efim
1968 Officine Meccaniche Ferroviarie  Pistoiesi Efim
1968 Wayne Italiana Private buyers
1969 Sbe Cogne
1969 Delta Smi
1970 Sant’Eustacchio Finsider
1970 Elsag Stet
1970 Selenia Stet
1971 Nuova San Giorgio Simates
1971 Sofer Efim
1973 Nui Cogne
1973 Oto Melara Efim

Aeritalia was the youngest of the companies in the Group, but was deeply rooted in the history of Italian aviation. It actually brought together under one name different industrial cultures which at the start of the century, from the north to the south of the peninsula, had developed an important aeronautical tradition by setting up various models of aircraft for military use and, after the two world wars, with agreements, also at international level, in the sector of servicing and structures for commercial aircraft. Aerfer - Industrie Aerospaziali Meridionali - was founded in 1956 for the purpose of grouping together the aeronautical activities of the aeronautical pole of Campania. It inherited the legacy of IMAM (Industrie Meccaniche Aeronautiche Meridionali), with origins linked to Officine Ferroviarie Meridionali which in 1916 had started producing the first aircraft in Naples, with the production under licence from Fokker of the historic biplane Romeo Ro.1, under the direction of its designing engineer Nicola Romeo. After joining the Finmeccanica Group at the end of the Fifties, Aerfer specialised in the segment of servicing and structures as a supplier for FIAT Aviazione. Yet most importantly, during the Sixties, it secured supply agreements with major producers to manufacture components for scheduled aircraft, starting with the Douglas DC-9 and DC-10 families, which were soon joined by the McDonnell Douglas MD-80. In 1969 FIAT’s Aviation Section was the major private aeronautical pole in Italy, also boasting a long tradition going back to the founding, in Turin in 1916, of Società Italiana Aviazione into which FIAT had channelled all its aeronautical business, and which would later become the aggregation pole of other historic aeronautical construction companies operating in the Turin area (such as Fabbrica Aeroplani Ing. O. Pomilio, founded in 1916, the aeronautical activities of Ansaldo and Avio, in the business of aircraft engines since 1908). The main aeronautical programmes which FIAT brought to the fledgling Aeritalia were the F-104 Starfighter fighter aircraft and the lightweight tactical fighter G-91, while it had already started working with the first European space programmes: human flight into space, scientific and telecommunications satellites. Lastly, Salmoiraghi was a Milan-based company which was part of the Finmeccanica Group from its incorporation, although its origins dated back to 1864 when the production of optical and measuring instruments began, later expanding its production to aeronautical instruments and electromechanical and optical equipment.

Since the beginning, Aeritalia developed programs that would make aviation history. In July 1970, barely less than a year after its establishment, Aeritalia flew the G-222 prototype, the historic tactical transport aircraft, ancestor of the C-27J, that FIAT and Aerfer had been working on together and that would become a great success in theatres of operations worldwide. Other programs inherited by Aeritalia and later successfully developed were the F-104 Starfighter, developed by FIAT under a Lockheed license, and the G-91, a light tactical fighter made by FIAT that the Frecce Tricolori would adopt in 1963 in the trainer version, the precursor of the modern MB-339. The top level aeronautical know-how involved grew out of the tradition of Italy's aircraft manufacturing pioneers, who had achieved prominence in the early years of the twentieth century with great exploits, famous flights and records. One airplane from that era was the Ansaldo SVA, the first to be designed and built entirely in Italy. The SVAs became legendary among pilots for their memorable flights, the one over Vienna being the most famous of all, performed on August 9, 1918 by the 87th Squadron "Serenissima" led by Gabriele D'Annunzio, who was inviting Austria to surrender. Other examples of legendary airplanes are the Aerfer Sagittario, Italy's first supersonic aircraft from 1956, and the Macchi MC.72, holder of the world speed record in 1934.