Air Liberté/AOM’s future now in hands of bankruptcy court

 - May 21, 2008, 8:14 AM

The future of the SAirGroup’s troubled French regional airline subsidiaries hung in the balance as the Swiss airline conglomerate awaited a decision from the commercial court responsible for examining offers for Air Liberté/AOM. If French authorities decline to accept any of the offers to fully or partially take over the operation, the company will face liquidation, thus ending SAirGroup’s ambition to form a second powerful French regional airline to rival Air France. Meanwhile, an offer to take over Air Littoral, by its former boss Marc Dufour, has been accepted.

AOM and Air Liberté are majority owned by France’s Marine-Wendel, which holds a 50.5-percent share, while SAirGroup’s subsidiary Swissair holds 49.5 percent. The Zurich, Switzerland-based group is barred by European Union (EU) rules from holding a majority stake in undertakings based in one of the 15 EU member countries because Switzerland is not an EU member. The financial problems of the SAirGroup’s three French regional airlines have led to huge losses. SAirGroup has been losing SFr80 million ($47.2 million) a month on its French operations, and the French airlines have accumulated net losses of FFr3 billion ($400 million).

AOM and Air Liberté, which over the last few months have become a single entity, on June 19 filed for insolvency and obtained court protection from their creditors. This decision keeps creditors at bay while offering the company more time to seek a solution to its financial situation. The company was put under observation for three months under the management of two independent administrators. Marc Dufour’s last-minute takeover of Air Littoral narrowly allowed that airline to avoid the fate of its two sister airlines.

Following the late withdrawal of Aéris, the small Toulouse-based airline that sought to take over AOM/Air Liberté’s charter activity, the merged airlines have attracted 14 offers. Five offers are for a full takeover of AOM/Air Liberté’s assets and operations. The two offers that seem to have the best chance of succeeding are those of Holco and Fidei. Holco, a company established by Jean-Charles Courbet, a pilot with Air France, in conjunction with Canadian bank CIBC World Markets, seeks to take over the whole unit but at the cost of deep workforce cuts. Holco said it would keep 3,500 of the total 5,160 workforce, including 650 pilots.