Mario Fonseca / Rio de Janeiro

Bidders for a stake in Aerolineas Argentinas will have to wait until the end of August

The Spanish Government has given Aerolineas Argentinas a 25-day reprieve, putting off until the end of August its choice between seven bidders for its majority stake in the ailing airline.

Spanish state holding company Sociedad Estatal de Participaciones Industriales (SEPI) expects to have evaluated the bids for its 91.2% stake in the Argentinian flag carrier by 17 August.

A consortium headed by Eduardo Eurnekián, airline owner and chief executive of Aeropuertos Argentinos 2000, is believed to be the front-runner. Eurnekián plans to bring Aerolineas together with its rivals Lineas Aéreas Privados Argentinas (LAPA), Southern Winds and Dinar as well as Spain's Air Europa to guarantee transatlantic flights.

Other bidders include Peruvian budget carrier Aero Continente, but its chances have been damaged by the impounding of aircraft in Chile after money laundering allegations. In addition, there is a joint venture between Air Comet and the Air Plus Argentina subsidiary of Spanish tour operator Marsans Group, and a venture promoted by former Aerolineas director Juan Carlos Pellegrini, who claims to have backing from foreign investors, Airbus and local unions.

SEPI says it is looking for any bidder to absorb up to $950 million worth of Aerolineas' liabilities and take over its aircraft.

The Spanish state agency is also keen for any plan to guarantee the short-term retention of 7,000 staff, many of whom have been idle since the airline shelved long-haul flights in June. SEPI is proposing talks with the unions in Argentina to resolve the overstaffing issue.

One obstacle to Eurnekián's bid could be his growing monopoly of Argentinian air traffic. Last month he acquired an undisclosed stake in LAPA, adding to his 30% share of Southern Winds and his 35% of AA2000. Meanwhile, Aero Continente's bid, which is understood to be valued at $100 million over 10 years, could be rejected because of Chilean legal action.

The Peruvians' bid is thought to be the only one that includes Aerolineas' domestic arm, Austral, owned by a separate part of the Spanish state holding company called Interinvest. The latter is delaying its decision on the future of the loss-making airline and plans to dispose of four McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32s.

Additional reporting by Justin Wastnage in London.

Source: Flight International