May 18, 2020 / 1:26 PM / 17 days ago

Czech Airlines owner Smartwings wants aid, but no state stake

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Czech Airlines owner Smartwings said on Monday it is seeking state loans or guarantees, but has no interest in opening the way for the Czech government to take up to 100% control.

FILE PHOTO: A Smartwings airline Boeing 737 approaches for landing at Vaclav Havel Airport in Prague, Czech Republic, August 20, 2019. REUTERS/David W Cerny

Industry Minister Karel Havlicek had floated the possibility of the Czech state owning up to 100% of Smartwings to help it through the coronavirus crisis, which has taken a heavy toll on the global airline industry as planes have been grounded.

Havlicek said on Saturday that state ownership was one of the options, adding a decision should come by the end of June.

Czech Airlines resumed some flights on Monday after a month-and-a-half disruption due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Smartwings is controlled by Czech businessman Jiri Simane and partners, who own 50.1% of the group, with the remainder held by Chinese state-owned CITIC Group.

Although Smartwings had welcomed talks on possible state support, it said on Monday that it had never had any interest in the government taking a stake in the company.

“Smartwings is asking the state ... mainly about a loan or loan guarantee,” it said, adding a guarantee would ease its access to commercial loans.

Havlicek has called the airline, which employs 2,500 people, strategic although the idea of it getting extraordinary help beyond what other companies can receive has been criticised by opposition political parties.

Smartwings, which has a low-cost airline of the same name as well as running charter flights, carried 8.2 million passengers in 2019.

(This story corrects paragraph two to show stake option was in Smartwings, not Czech Airlines)

Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Alexander Smith and David Evans

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