Uruguay leans towards ex-Pluna employees' plan to restart airline

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The Uruguayan government is now seeking to sell seven Bombardier CRJ900s previously operated by Pluna to the bankrupt carrier's ex-employees, after plans to sell the aircraft to other parties fell through.

Uruguay's president Jose Mujica has signed a new law, which will give priority to former Pluna employees to buy or lease the seven aircraft. These employees have presented a proposal to relaunch Pluna as an employee-owned airline. Uruguay's parliament still needs to pass the law.

The government had earlier tried to sell the aircraft through a tender process in October, following Pluna's bankruptcy. Spain's Cosmo, acting as an intermediary for Uruguay BQB Lineas Aereas, was the winning bidder. BQB, however, ultimately decided to not buy the aircraft, forcing the Uruguayan government to look for alternative solutions.

The new law also extends by another six months Pluna's international traffic rights, originally set to expire in January.

According to a spokesman for the association of Pluna employees, his organisation has already submitted to the government its concrete plans to launch operations of "the new Pluna" in April 2013.

While this initiative, now strengthened by the implicit support of Uruguay's president, is not asking explicitly for government money, it has requested support in the form of "bearable lease rates, fuel tax exemption" and other indirect subsidies.

On previous occasions, Pluna's ex-employees also mentioned a plan to team up with an experienced operational partner to optimise management and operations, suggesting that negotiations with Spanish Iberia franchise and major Bombardier operator Air Nostrum had been initiated.

The need for air connectivity has become more urgent in Uruguay, following recent news that Iberia plans to cancel its six-weekly flights to Madrid in April, which would have resulted in Uruguay losing its only non-stop route to Europe.