Chris Jasper/LONDON

SAirGroup and the Belgian Government have agreed to inject €250 million ($234 million) into Sabena in a move that should avoid a possible bankruptcy filing.

The 20 January deal will see SAir contribute €150 million and Brussels €100 million in return for non-voting certificates. An emergency meeting on 8 February is expected to approve the scheme, if Sabena's unions agree to cost-cutting proposals detailed in the ongoing Blue Sky recovery plan.

The Belgian Government says €750 million funding has been agreed for Sabena - with €250 million to come from the recapitalisation plan, €354 million from Blue Sky, and €150 million from SAir, which has agreed to make "best efforts to cover residual cash needs".

Blue Sky's savings are to come from two sources: "management measures" of €302 million, plus "social measures" of €52 million. Sabena's unions are opposed to the latter, although the airline says job losses are not envisaged. Real estate in New York and Africa will also be sold, and four aircraft (including at least two Airbus A340s) shed.

The 20 January meeting also reaffirmed plans for SAir to move from a current 49.5% holding in Sabena to 85% once the European Union has ratified a key treaty with Switzerland at the end of this year, as agreed in April 2000. Belgium's holding will drop from 50.5% to 15%, but it will get a 3.3% stake in SAir. The process is not related to the current recapitalisation.

SAir took its 49.5% stake in 1995, plus a nominal 12.75% share in return for a loan used to buy out Air France's holding. But as a non-EU member, it cannot currently exercise its effective 62.25% stake without compromising Sabena's operating rights.

Under the new deal, three Sabena divisions - catering, cargo handling and ground handling - will now be integrated into SAir in the short term, although their ownership will not change until SAir's stake increases. Belgium will now get a seat on the SAir board in May, appointing an observer in the meantime, while a supervisory committee will oversee the Airline Management Partnership which runs the two airlines, with immediate effect. Sabena staff will receive two shares each in SAir.

Source: Flight International