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SAirGroup undecided about long-term involvement in Sabena

SAirGroup has agreed to save Sabena from bankruptcy, but is offering no long-term guarantees


The SAirGroup has raised doubts about its long-term commitment to the troubled Belgian airline, Sabena, despite an agreement on Monday to save the company from bankruptcy.

Sabena won a last-minute reprieve after its two shareholders, SAirGroup and the Belgian government, said they would inject new capital into the ailing airline.

However, the SAirGroup, which owns a 49.5 per cent stake in Sabena, says it intends to keep its options open regarding its future involvement in the Belgian carrier. A key issue is its agreement with the Belgian government to raise its holding to 85 per cent.

SAirGroup's head of communications, Beatrice Tschanz, said the company's decision to back the capital increase was based on existing contracts. "I cannot explain it in days or weeks but it was clear from the SAirGroup side... [that] we want to have negotiations with the Belgian state to keep all the options open."

SAirGroup's decision to approve the cash injection of €250 million (SFr382.5 million) followed weeks of tough bargaining with unions and pilots over SFr80 million in cost cuts demanded by the shareholders as a condition for the new equity.

Sabena's unions and pilots signed an agreement on the costs cuts, which entail 700 job losses, on Monday.

SAirGroup is undergoing a major change of direction, following the departure last month of its chief executive, Philippe Bruggisser. He had pursued an aggressive acquisition strategy, buying stakes in several regional and national carriers.

The group said last month it would be calling a halt to all new acquisitions and concentrate on its core airline and airline-related businesses.

In a related development, the future of the SAirGroup's French airline operations has been called into question, after their new boss, Marc Rochet, wrote a letter to employees saying he did not know whether the company could survive.

The Financial Times reported on Tuesday that the three carriers - AOM, Air Liberté and Air Littoral - chalked up losses of more than 2.5 billion French francs (SFr580 million) in 2000.

In his letter, Rochet said a full financial audit of the three airlines pooled under the SAirGroup's umbrella - AOM, Air Liberté and Air Littoral - would be published by March 15.

swissinfo with agencies


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