Hotelier Gordon "Butch" Stewart and his investor group have relinquished their 75% stake in Air Jamaica and turned the troubled airline over to Jamaica's government, ending nine years of private ownership and control.

Stewart insists he was not forced out, but reached an accord with the government after months of talks over the best way to save the airline. Under the final deal, Stewart's group agreed to inject $20 million and the government agreed to give Air Jamaica $25 million in credits to "partially address" its operating loss, which is expected to reach $90 million for 2004.

Following the handover, the government installed an interim management team headed by board member Vincent Lawrence, who is prominent in the prime minister's cabinet. While overseeing the airline's financial restructuring as its new executive chairman, Lawrence will also recruit a chief executive.

Omar Davies, Jamaica's finance minister, stresses that the government has "no desire" to own Air Jamaica permanently, but stepped in because the airline was in danger of collapse. Because Jamaica relies so heavily on overseas tourism, the government regards the airline as a vital asset.

Source: Airline Business