(Adds Neeleman comments)
By Andrei Khalip and Sergio Goncalves
LISBON, June 5 (Reuters) - The Portuguese government on Friday received improved offers for the indebted flag carrier TAP from the two bidding consortia, which each involve Brazil-based aviation tycoons.
“The privatisation process remains competitive ... We have two improved offers, which is a good sign in principle,” Transport Secretary Sergio Monteiro told reporters.
He declined to comment on the offers, adding that the state property holding company Parpublica now had five days to analyse them before the government decides which, if any, is acceptable.
One consortium is led by Brazilian-Colombian investor German Efromovich, who controls Latin America’s Avianca via his holding Synergy.
He made the only bid for TAP in a failed attempt to sell it in 2012. His offer then was rejected because of a problem with financial guarantees.
The rival consortium is a holding company including American-Brazilian investor David Neeleman and Portuguese bus company owner Humberto Pedrosa. Neeleman is the founder of U.S. airline JetBlue and the CEO of Azul Brazilian Airlines.
In a written statement sent to Reuters, Neeleman said fleet renewal was an important part of his consortium’s offer. TAP operates a fleet of 77 planes with 2,500 weekly flights, many of them to Brazil, with which Portugal has historic ties.
“We will buy 53 new and technologically advanced aircraft,” he wrote.
“Our priority is investment in TAP. We want to put it on the course for growth, strengthening it as a flag carrier, reinforcing the hub in Lisbon so that TAP can continue to contribute with some 2 billion euros to the Portuguese economy.”
The government has said it wants to sell the 61 percent controlling stake in TAP by the end of June.
Because of European Union state-aid rules, the government cannot inject capital into TAP, which has debts of over 1 billion euros. It does not expect much revenue from the sale, but hopes investors will relieve the state of all or part of the debt.
TAP was hit by a 10-day pilots’ strike last month. After a strike threat at Christmas, the government guaranteed future buyers would be barred from laying off workers en masse as long as the state remained a shareholder. The state is retaining a 34 percent stake that can be sold in two years.
The government had to invoke a “public interest” clause to unblock the process after a court injunction this week. The leader of the main opposition Socialists, Antonio Costa, has been critical of the selloff and threatened too take legal measures to prevent the state from losing control of TAP. (Reporting by Andrei Khalip; editing by Andrew Roche)