Brazil's second-largest carrier, Vasp, is again on the verge of collapse, with the government threatening to exclude it from a programme key to its recovery. The government could auction Vasp aircraft to recover debts.

Brazilian welfare minister Waldeck Ornélas says Vasp could be excluded from the country's Fiscal Recovery Programme (REFIS). The airline was admitted to the scheme on the condition that it make adequate payments to National Social Security Institute (INSS), which is owed $137.5 million in welfare contributions.

The airline had agreed to repay the sum in $2.2 million monthly installments, but - Ornélas says - paid an average of only $9,000 per month in the final three quarters last year. Though Vasp claimed it was up to date with repayments via a credit deal with the state-controlled Fundo Aeroviário airport development fund, it was forced to pay a further $3.5 million to INSS to ward off expulsion from REFIS.

With Ornélas claiming Vasp's repayments are well below those required, 24 aircraft used as collateral against the debt could be auctioned. Vasp, which owes the government $390 million, faces a review of its 1999 and 2000 accounts by Brazil's Securities and Exchange Commission after an independent audit found discrepancies.

Further doubts concern the planned launch this quarter of regional carrier Vasp Express. The start-up is due to fly 50- and 70-seat regional jets - most likely ERJ-145 and -170s - financed by a $250 million loan from the National Economic and Social Development Bank.

Source: Flight International