ALTA 2010: Leadgate sells AeroVIP stake

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Pluna majority owner Leadgate has sold its 60% stake in Argentinean regional carrier AeroVIP and is taking back AeroVIP's only aircraft.

Leadgate chief Matias Campiani confirms the investment firm has decided to pull out of AeroVIP. Leadgate last year acquired a 60% stake in AeroVIP from its local owners and helped re-launch the carrier, which had been grounded since 2004.

AeroVIP has since been operating one CRJ900 leased from Pluna, which Leadgate acquired in 2007. Campiani says Pluna is now in the process of taking back this aircraft, which will give the Uruguayan carrier an operating fleet of 10 CRJ900s by year-end.

AeroVIP has only been operating charter flights because repeated attempts to secure scheduled traffic rights have failed. AeroVIP mainly operates charters on behalf of Pluna, including on the busy Buenos Aires-Montevideo route. Campiani says having AeroVIP-operated charters alongside Pluna-operated scheduled flights were "complicated" and it is "cleaner" to instead only have Pluna-operated scheduled flights.

"We couldn't get the necessary permits in Argentina," Campiani explains. "We have the high season coming in and in high season we need all the capacity we can get our hands on."

AeroVIP operated BAe Jetstream J32 turboprops before initially suspending services in 2004. It seems unlikely the carrier will be able to re-launch once its only aircraft is returned to Pluna. Leadgate pulling out of AeroVIP does not come as a surprise as Pluna, which is still 25% government owned, announced earlier this year it decided against a proposal to take over the stake in AeroVIP held by Leadgate.