Air France Agrees to Buy Controlling Interest in UTA
PARIS (AP) _ Air France said Friday it has agreed to acquire a controlling interest in the privately held airline Union de Transports Aeriens, in a move that values UTA at almost 7 billion French francs, or around $1.2 billion.
Air France, the government-owned airline, said it will buy initially a block of 930,000 UTA shares representing 54.58 percent of UTA’s capital from Chargeurs SA, a holding company with transportation and textile interests.
Air France said it will pay 4,083 francs, or $714, for each UTA share. Trading in UTA shares was suspended on the Paris Stock Exchange Friday at 2,770 francs, or $484.
The Societe des Bourses Francaises, which regulates securities trading, announced the halt amid rumors that Air France would be purchasing a major stake in UTA, France’s biggest private airline.
Air France said it is offering the same terms to UTA’s minority shareholders.
Chargeurs controls 82.9 percent of UTA’s capital, and Air France will have first refusal rights if Chargeurs decides on any future dilution of its stake in UTA.
UTA has a fleet of only 19 jets, six of which are owned by its charter subsidiary Aeromaritime. UTA operates on long-haul routes, mainly to the Pacific and Africa.
Chargeurs Chairman Jerome Seydoux had said on several occasions that he would sell UTA if the French government did not authorize it to operate on European and transatlantic routes.
In late 1988, the French government rejected UTA’s request for new routes and said it was opposed to allowing UTA to fly to Newark, N.J., although two years ago UTA won the right to operate between Paris and San Francisco.
Air France said the takeover will create an air transport group that will be able to compete on an even footing with big international competitors.
Several of Air France’s European rivals, notably British Airways PLC and KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, have considered or made investments in foreign airlines as a way to position themselves to exploit the Common Market deregulation set to begin in 1992.
The deal also gives Air France control of the French domestic airline Air Inter. UTA holds 35.8 percent of Air Inter stock and Air France has 37 percent.
Transport Minister Michel Delebarre issued a statement praising the deal. But the takeover could spark a political debate, because Socialist President Francois Mitterrand had promised there would be neither nationalizations nor privatizations during his current 7-year term.
As part of the deal, UTA will acquire the 49 percent minority stake in Aeromaritime that is held by Chargeurs, giving UTA full control of the charter operation.
Financial analysts said Air France’s purchase of 54.6 percent of UTA will give Chargeurs an immediate cash injection of almost 3.8 billion francs, or $665 million.
Chargeurs’ 1989 earnings were affected by a strike by UTA pilots that lasted several months.