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TAP tips back to the state

Portugal has reclaimed a 50 per cent stake in TAP, months after the country’s new government promised to reverse the national carrier’s privatisation. Comparing TAP’s aircraft to the wooden caravels that launched Portugal’s great era of discoveries, prime minister Antonio Costa declared that the government would work in partnership with the Gateway consortium, which is comprised of JetBlue founder David Neeleman and businessman Humberto Pedrosa. As a result Gateway’s stake has fallen from 61 to 45 per cent, though the company may be able to acquire five per cent set aside for TAP staff.

Crucially, it appears that Gateway will retain effective control of the airline, even though the consortium and government will have equal board representation.

“What matters is that we are assured of private management and our strategic plan,” said Pedrosa.

For a 61 per cent stake Gateway had bid €10m plus a capital injection of €338m – roughly a third of the airline’s debt.

 TAP ordered 53 new Airbus aircraft shortly after the deal was signed off by Portugal’s now-toppled centre-right government.

The new, Socialist-led government, having promised to wrest back majority control – paid €1.9m to raise its share from 34 to 50 per cent in a compromise that protects the party’s public credentials while not scaring off Gateway’s vital investment.

“If you can take decisions, that’s the most important thing,” Neeleman said last week, when asked he would feel about a change in TAP’s ownership structure.

Nonetheless, the delicate balance of power now in place at TAP is a cause for concern.

While the current political will is for TAP to be privately managed, the government’s large stake – which it has promised not to increase – means that the airline remains a political football, albeit one removed from the field of play for now.

 

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