Portugal aims to sell stake of at least 51% in airline TAP

By Patricia Vicente Rua

LISBON (Reuters) -Portugal’s government plans to sell a controlling stake of at least 51% in state-owned airline TAP, the government said on Thursday, after the cabinet approved the privatisation process with a view to develop the national aviation sector.

“The content of the decree contemplates objectives for TAP growth, national hub growth, growth and employment within the aviation sector, better utilisation of national airports and pricing,” Finance Minister Fernando Medina told reporters.

TAP employees will get another 5% and the stake to be left in state hands is yet to be determined.

Medina said bidders must be sector players with relevant scale, not investors of a strictly financial nature.

The airline’s privatisation has already attracted interest from Lufthansa, Air France-KLM and British Airways owner IAG, whose Chief Executive Luis Gallego said on Wednesday that TAP would fit right into the group’s profile, but IAG still needed to see the conditions of the sale.

“There are interested airlines and their interest is public, which we welcome as a positive sign for the success of this operation,” Medina said, pointing out TAP’s “privileged connections” to the Portuguese-speaking world, including countries such as Brazil, Angola and Mozambique.

The government plans to approve the full privatisation dossier with the terms and requirements by the end of the year, Medina said, and the process should be concluded next year.

The carrier, which has been undergoing restructuring under a Brussels-approved bailout, swung to a net profit of 23 million euros in the first half from a loss of 202 million a year earlier on strong revenue growth and it expects more positive results this year.

(Reporting by Patrícia Vicente Rua; writing by Andrei Khalip;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)