Paris and Brussels have come to an agreement on the release of new financial aid for Air France, which will have in exchange to give up "a certain number of slots" at the Parisian airport of Orly, announced this Sunday the French minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, guest of the television program Le Grand Jury LCI / RTL / Le Figaro.
This is the end of weeks of intense discussions between Paris and the European Commission, guardian of balanced competition.
The French state, which owns 14.3% of Air France, is therefore prepared for a public bailout to rescue the company, affected - like the entire airline sector - by the Covid-19 crisis and which has lost 7.1 billion euros in 2020. But Bruno Le Maire did not specify the amount: it "will be discussed with Air France", he said.
A board of directors of the company is scheduled for Monday and must "validate the principle of this agreement".
According to a union source, an extraordinary central social and economic committee (CSE) of Air France was also "summoned urgently on Tuesday morning, at 8:30 am", with the agenda "the economic situation of Air France".
A "difficult" negotiation
Bruno Le Maire welcomed "very good news for Air France and for the entire French aviation sector", at the end of "hard", "long and difficult" negotiations.
The agreement reached is "fair and proportionate," said the minister.
But Air France will have in exchange to make concessions on air slots and will also have to "make efforts to compete", he warned.
In return, the European Commission asked that “we give up 24 landing and take-off slots at Orly.
My position, from the start, was to say that it was too much and that there was no point in supporting Air France on the one hand if it was, on the other, to excessively enhance the competition by asking for 24 air slots. on Orly, ”explained Bruno Le Maire.
In the end, “there will be an abandonment of a certain number of European slots, but not 24. I cannot give the figure today because it must first be presented to the Board of Directors of Air France [ ...] but it will be less than 24 ”, he assured.
The unions of the French company had rejected the possibility of abandoning slots.
Bruno Le Maire also recalled that the French State had already "supported" Air France a lot since the start of the crisis linked to the pandemic, by providing 7 billion euros, and was not signing today "a check in White ".
“There are tens of thousands of jobs behind.
[...] The taxpayers have already brought 7 billion euros to Air France.
I am ready to provide new support, but that Air France will return to profit [...] and prove its competitiveness.
[...] The taxpayers are making an effort, Air France must make an effort on its side ", warned the minister, who also demanded that the company continues" to reduce its CO2 emissions ".
🗣 @BrunoLeMaire on the support given to #AirFrance: "We support them because I believe that there are tens of thousands of jobs behind [...] But #AirFrance must make efforts to be competitive, reduce its CO2 emissions."
📺 #LeGrandJury # La26.
- LCI (@LCI) April 4, 2021
Asked whether he was calling for job cuts, Bruno Le Maire replied that "improving competitiveness does not necessarily mean cutting jobs, destroying value".
"It is up to the president of Air France, Ben Smith, and all of his teams to make proposals to us so that the French money, which we are going to put in support of Air France, is well placed", he said.
Air France-KLM has already benefited from massive public aid from Paris and The Hague: more than 10 billion euros, including 7 billion in direct loans or loans guaranteed by the French State as a shareholder.
But the pandemic continues and the prospects for a recovery in the airline industry remain uncertain.
The Air France-KLM group lost two thirds of its customers last year and its debt almost doubled to 11 billion euros.
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A recapitalization process could be outlined, for which the Dutch state, which owns 14% of the Franco-Dutch group, would have a say.
The Hague had shown itself, a few months ago, ready to discuss it.