Air France confirms bid for cash-strapped carrier Aigle Azur
Air France on Monday confirmed it had offered to buy the bankrupt carrier Aigle Azur, France’s second-largest airline, which suspended flights last week leaving thousands of passengers stranded.
Aigle Azur, which employs almost 1,200 staff, filed for bankruptcy and abruptly suspended flights last week after heavy losses prompted a shareholder coup that ousted the chief executive.
Potential buyers had until midday on Monday to present their offers.
A spokesperson for Air France confirmed rumours of a bid, without giving further details. The rumours sent stocks tumbling in early trade, with Air France-KLM shares shedding up to 8%.
A senior French official said several potential buyers had been identified, adding that some 13,000 passengers, mainly booked on Aigle Azur flights to and from Algeria, were still stranded.
"Out of 19,000 passengers who found themselves in difficulty at the peak of the crisis, there are still 13,000" who have yet to be repatriated, the secretary of state for transport, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, told Le Parisien daily.
He said these included 11,000 passengers booked on flights into and out of Algeria, 600 on Mali flights as well as other destinations ranging from Russia to Lebanon.
Air France chartered two special flights on Saturday and then again on Sunday to help passengers booked on Algeria flights, which flew out one quarter full but were full on the return.
"The hardest moment of the crisis will be over before the end of the week. At least half the passengers will have been repatriated," Djebbari said.
The airline transported last year some 1.9 million passengers, with destinations in Algeria making up half of its operations that brought in 300 million euros ($329 million) of revenue.
"There needs to be a serious buyer who is capable of offering guarantees for a maximum number of employees. The good news is that many [potential buyers] have expressed interest," said the secretary of state.
Djebbari said the former chief executive of Air France's subsidiary Hop!, Lionel Guerin, was also among interested parties, backed by a team of aviation professionals with financial support.
"This shows there is still an interest in Aigle Azur," he added.
The largest shareholder in Aigle Azur is the Chinese conglomerate HNA Group, which owns Hainan Airlines, with a 49-percent stake.
David Neeleman, an American airline entrepreneur whose companies include JetBlue and TAP Air Portugal, owns 32 percent, and French businessman Gérard Houa owns 19 percent.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP)
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