TNT Express lines up European buyer for its airlines

TNT Express has revealed that ASL Aviation Group is now in place to buy its airlines if its merger with UPS goes ahead.
The Netherlands-based integrator is currently waiting for European and Chinese regulators to approve its EUR 5.16bn acquisition by Atlanta-based UPS. Hopes are for the deal to be approved by early February 2013.

The company has been looking for a European buyer for its airline business so that it can continue to enjoy full access to intra-EU air routes, which would not be allowed if it is owned by a non-European company like UPS.

Today TNT said it has agreed for ASL Aviation to buy 100% of the equity in TNT Airways and its Pan Air Lineas Areas unit – conditional on the TNT-UPS merger going ahead.

ASL Aviation Group holds an European air operator license, and operates three airlines – Safair, European Airpost, and Air Contractors – as well as two support services companies ACLAS Global and Air Contractors Engineering.

The Group is 51% owned by Compagnie Maritime Belge and 49% owned by 30 Air Freighters Ltd. It currently owns a fleet of about 90 aircraft and employs nearly 1,200 people, with a EUR 410m turnover in 20011.

As soon as the deal is complete, ASL Aviation would take over all flights performed by TNT Express’ airlines, under an agreement that would maintain service continuity.

“Significant value”

TNT Express said operations at its Liege hub in Belgium will not be affected for a year after the deal

TNT Airways operates 38 aircraft, but is separate from the TNT Euro hub division of the TNT Global Air Network, which operates the sorting centre at Liege.

The fleet includes four Boeing 747s, three Boeing 777-200s, one Boeing 757 and 16 BAe 146s, and operates 14 Boeing 737-300s leased from Swiftair, Cargo Air and Ukraine International.

About 500 employees, including 250 pilots, work for TNT Airways, linking to 68 European airports and six non-European airports (New York JFK, Singapore, Dubai, Shanghai, Chongqing and Hong Kong).

Pan Air is based out of Madrid, and includes seven aircraft.

TNT said the ownership transfer should not impact on activities at its air hub in Liege for “at least one year” following completion of the deal.

ASL Aviation Group would maintain the TNT Airways headquarters in Liege, and TNT said it expected the company to become a “key third-party” provider for the combined UPS-TNT group, although it will have to bid to run the combined group’s outsourced air business in Europe when it comes up for tender.

Alongside any work for UPS-TNT, ASL Aviation intends to further develop its third-party airline and maintenance businesses, the companies said.

TNT said its potential new owner does aim to develop long-term plans for the Liege hub, and recognises the “significant value” of the operations, assets and people.

“Important step”

Bernard Bot, the TNT Express interim chief executive, said: “We have found a new ownership and control structure that secures the future of the airlines, ensures service continuity and safeguards jobs in Liege.

“This is an important step towards completion of the proposed UPS-TNT Express merger and a positive outcome for the airline employees.”

Hugh Flynn, group chief executive of ASL Aviation Group, said: “I look forward to working with the highly skilled and dedicated TNT airlines team as we build the airlines for the future. Additionally, the transaction provides ASL with new opportunities for development growth.”

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