Plans would cut French stake in Air France to 20% and Czech state holding in CSA to 52%

Two European airlines have delayed imminent privatisations as the airline market refuses to recover. Air France will now be privatised in six to 12 months' time, with French finance minister Francis Mer saying that the airline "must be sold for what it is worth, not in the current aeronautical climate, but in an improved situation". The privatisation of CSA Czech Airlines, originally scheduled for early 2003, will probably be postponed until 2004 or later, according to the airline's president Miroslav Kula.

The 11 September attacks and the US recession have been blamed for the delay, although Kula declines to say how much of CSA's turnover or profit comes from its Prague-New York services.

Mer was doubtless warned off by the dismal performance of the traded portion of Air France, which was partially privatised in 1999. The shares have lost 36% since the start of this year and slumped to c10.34 ($10.08) last week.

Under the privatisation plan, the French government would reduce its 54% share in Air France to 20%, which is "almost complete from an administrative point of view". The Czech state's 91% holding in CSA would drop to 52%, with the remaining shares going to its SkyTeam alliance partners Air France and Delta Air Lines. A flotation of CSA is also possible.

Air France was a minor shareholder of Czech Airlines in the early 1990s, as was the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, but in 1993 CSA suffered a record loss of over Ckr1.5 billion ($47 million), and both shareholders eventually withdrew.

Source: Flight International