Air Comet consortium plans fleet replacement after buying bankrupt Aerolineas Argentinas

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Aerolineas Argentinas is to be sold to the Spanish Air Comet consortium in a deal involving tour company Viajes Marsans and its associated airlines Spanair and Air Plus.

The agreement brings to a close attempts by Spanish state holding company SEPI to sell its 92% stake in the bankrupt airline.

The Argentinian flag carrier has been in bankruptcy protection since June. It lost $363 million last year, with losses now running at $40 million a month despite staff and fleet cuts and route restructuring.

SEPI is transferring its stake in Aerolineas Argentinas, along with its 90% holding in domestic carrier Austral, within the next 40 days. The Spanish holding company is thought to have injected $1.8 billion into Aerolineas and Austral during its 11-year ownership of the airlines.

The new proprietors have undertaken to retain the 7,000-strong combined workforce - a key point in the negotiations carried-out between SEPI and the contending parties. The Air Comet consortium is expected to increase Aerolineas Argentinas capital by $50 million and to acquire 23 new aircraft within the next four years to replace older single-aisle aircraft in service with Aerolineas and Austral.

It is understood there will be rationalisation of the carriers' domestic and international route networks. The consortium expects to re-establish flights to the USA and Brazil within 60 days, reducing frequencies to destinations such as Tokyo, and abandoning domestic and international routes that do not attain a greater than 65% load factor. It will also look at integrating the operations with its Spanish airline.