Labour representatives from Uruguayan flag carrier Pluna have protested against the transfer of one of the airline's Bombardier CRJ900 regional jets to the Argentinian airline AeroVIP, in which Leadgate, Pluna's controlling shareholder, has acquired a 60% stake.
The AeroVIP acquisition, which was formalised last month, allows Leadgate to operate flights within Argentina. Last week, AeroVip was awarded traffic rights between Buenos Aires' Aeroparque downtown airport to Montevideo and Punta del Este in Uruguay. Both routes are already served by Pluna itself.
An Argentinian transport ministry source confirms that a "Pluna CRJ 900 has already been inscribed under the Argentinean LV registry".
What makes the deal politically sensitive is the fact the Uruguayan state is financially guaranteeing the payments for all Pluna CRJ900 aircraft which Leadgate ordered after it acquired 75% of the airline from the Uruguayan state in 2007.
A Pluna union source says: "Leadgate is acting unethically by transferring an aircraft guaranteed by the Uruguayan state to Argentina to be operated by an Argentinian carrier with Argentinian crews."
In late 2008, Leadgate clashed with the Uruguayan state, which still holds 25% of Pluna, when the government reportedly had to inject $10 million into the company to keep it operating, little more than a year after the privatisation process.
While no official Uruguayan source would comment on Pluna's AerovIP deal, a transport ministry source downplayed the importance of the transfer of a state-guaranteed aircraft to a foreign operator.
"As long as the aircraft ownership remains with Pluna, the government will not intervene in management decisions of the airline on where to operate or to whom it leases the aircraft," says the source.
"This deal was known since June although it is not until now when it becomes visible with the launch of Leadgate's Argentinian operation."
But the union source expresses his discontent with the government's passivity. "It is unbelievable that the government is not forcing Leadgate to use aircraft for which it [the government] bears the financial [cost] based in Uruguay and serve routes which benefit our country and employ our crews."