French airline Aigle Azur to seek bankruptcy protection

Paray-Vieille-Poste (France) (AFP) –

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France's second-largest airline Aigle Azur plans to file for bankruptcy protection Monday and will seek a buyer after years of losing millions of euros, members of the company's works council said.

The move comes after a shareholder coup ousted chief executive Frantz Yvelin last week, accusing him of making "strategic mistakes over the past two years."

Destinations in Algeria make up half of Aigle Azur's operations, and the company posted revenues of 300 million euros ($329 million) last year after transporting some 1.9 million passengers.

But it wasn't enough to stem heavy losses that last month prompted the airline to announce plans to sell its Portugal routes to low-cost rival Vueling.

"Aigle Azur is in cession of payments after several years of drifting because of numerous improper strategic decisions, and must ask for commercial court protection," employees said in a statement after a meeting with management.

A court hearing in the Paris suburb of Evry was expected for Monday afternoon, and "it's likely that the deadline for takeover bids will be set for September 15," they said, adding that "several potential bidders" had expressed an interest.

Bankruptcy protection would allow the airline, which has 1,150 employees, including some 350 based in Algeria, to continue operations.

Chinese conglomerate HNA Group, which owns Hainan Airlines, is the largest stakeholder with 49 percent.

David Neeleman, an American airline entrepreneur whose companies include JetBlue and TAP Air Portugal, owns 32 percent, and French businessman Gerard Houa owns 19 percent.

"We hope most of all there will be a buyer," said Lilas, a flight programmer who was among several dozen employees who gathered outside the airline's headquarters at Orly during Monday's meeting.

"It'd be a shame to lose an airline that has 300 million euros in sales and has landing slots in Algeria that even Air France doesn't have," she added, declining to give her last name.