Newly privatised TAP expands aircraft overhaul
LISBON Jan 14 (Reuters) - The owners of Portugal's flag carrier TAP will lease 17 new aircraft worth a total 400 million euros ($434 million), to fully renew its regional aviation fleet after already placing orders for 53 new Airbus jets worth $8.6 billion.
The Airbus jet order was placed right after the previous government sealed TAP's privatisation by selling a stake to a private consortium in November. Prime Minister Antonio Costa, who came to power at the end of November, has pledged to regain control.
TAP's CEO Fernando Pinto said on Thursday the company will receive nine Embraer 190s seating 100 passengers and eight 70-seat ATR52s turboprops, made by the French-Italian manufacturer ATR, by July.
These are to be used on regional routes, such as between Lisbon and Porto by TAP Express, formerly known as Portugalia. TAP Express will double the number of weekly flights between Portugal's two main cities to 114.
The company said the new planes were worth some 400 million euros but would not disclose how much it would pay under the lease contracts.
In the meantime, the Socialist government has resumed talks with the investors who now hold the controlling stake in TAP - American-Brazilian aviation tycoon David Neeleman and Portuguese bus company owner Humberto Pedrosa - to try and change the privatisation sealed in November by the previous administration.
Neeleman has warned that the private consortium could pull out if the government relieves it of control of the carrier, but Pedrosa on Thursday signalled the two sides were trying to reach a compromise.
"All options are on the table. We're starting the negotiations now, they will proceed and there are various possibilities. The state, as well as we, are discussing all options," he told reporters.
The state sold a 61 percent stake in TAP to the private consortium and Costa has pledged to get the state's interest back to 51 percent from 34 percent now. ($1 = 0.9215 euros) (Reporting By Andrei Khalip; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)
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