Lufthansa may seek creditor protection alongside Berlin rescue talks

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BERLIN (Reuters) – Lufthansa might seek some form of protection from creditors while talking to the Berlin government about a 9 billion euro ($9.76 billion) rescue package, a company source said on Tuesday after government and airline sources said talks on a deal were continuing.

FILE PHOTO: Two Lufthansa airbus A380-800 are parked as air traffic is affected by the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Frankfurt, Germany, March 23, 2020. Arne Dedert/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

The company source said that the type of creditor protection scheme under consideration would require the company to be still solvent and where management could stay on to oversee a restructuring.

Lufthansa declined to comment.

Lufthansa’s shares had risen as much as 12.1% earlier on Tuesday, which traders attributed to prospects of a rescue deal being close. They were 3.3% higher at 1115 GMT.

The shares were also supported by the reported the size of the rescue package, which met with some earlier expectations, traders said.

Lufthansa and the economy ministry had earlier declined to comment after news outlet Business Insider had cited company sources as saying that Berlin would help the airline in return for a blocking minority and one or two supervisory board mandates.

A government source said talks would continue but gave no timing.

Sources close to the talks said there would potentially be a conversation on Tuesday between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Lufthansa Chief Executive Carsten Spohr, but they added this was not with view to concluding a deal.

Lufthansa’s shares were up as much as 12.1%, which traders attributed to prospects of a nearing deal amid time pressure to stem ongoing losses. The shares were also supported by reported the size of the rescue deal, which met with some earlier expectations, they said.

The question of state influence in the management of the company is a tricky one for Germany’s coalition government.

Merkel’s conservatives (CDU/CSU) want to leave Lufthansa’s management relatively free of intervention, while the Social Democrats (SPD) want the state to share ownership in order to influence decision-making to protect employees.

Unions representing pilots, crews and ground staff demand job guarantees if tax payer money flows.

Spohr was cited in weekly newspaper Die Zeit as saying the company needed to remain in charge of its decision-making.

If Berlin had too much say, then governments of Austria, Switzerland, Belgium and federal German states could want to follow suit. Lufthansa has subsidiaries in Austria, Switzerland and Belgium and its two German hubs Frankfurt and Munich are located in the state of Hesse and Bavaria.

The company has issued stark warnings about its solvency amid a gloomy outlook after the coronavirus crisis grounded almost all its planes.

Spohr this month cited cash burn at a rate of 1 million euros per hour, meaning the airline’s 4 billion euro cash reserves will be inadequate.

Slideshow (5 Images)

Lufthansa currently only transports one percent of passengers compared with a year ago. Some 100 aircraft of its 760-strong fleet could be idled and 10,000 jobs are in danger, Spohr said last week.

Some rival airlines in Europe and in the United States have secured government help, but others have said they aim to manage without it.

Spohr assured Belgian Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès in a letter seen by a broadcaster he has no plans to sell Belgian unit Brussels Airline.

Reporting by Michelle Martin, Christian Kraemer, Ilona Wissenbach, Andreas Rinke, Holger Hansen, Alexander Huebner, writing by Vera Eckert in Frankfurt; editing by Thomas Seythal/Jason Neely/Jane Merriman/Sabine Wollrab/Arno Schuetze

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