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Could Norwegian state return to part-ownership of airline SAS?

The Local Denmark
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Could Norwegian state return to part-ownership of airline SAS?
A SAS aircraft parked on the tarmac at Manchester Airport in 2018. The Norwegian state could return to part ownership of the airline for the first time since that year. File photo: Christof STACHE / AFP

Norway’s government is reported to be considering purchasing shares in Scandinavian airline SAS, which is currently part-owned by the Danish and Swedish states.

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The Norwegian government is considering a return to part-ownership of airline SAS by purchasing shares, business media Dagens Næringsliv (DN) reports. As an alternative, the government may offer a loan to the struggling company.

Oslo is to consults financial services and legal advisors over the situation, according to DN.

The airline posted a net loss of 1.5 billion Swedish kronor (144 million euros) in the second quarter, compared to a net loss of 2.4 billion kronor a year earlier.

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Earlier this week, SAS said it was seeking to convert “20 billion (kronor) of debt and hybrid notes into common equity,” and was seeking to raise 9.5 billion kronor in new capital.

As such, creditors behind the debt could be allotted shares in exchange for the debt being written down and the balances converted to equity.

SAS was founded in 1946 as a joint Scandinavian effort to increase air traffic between the Nordic region and North and South America.

The Norwegian government sold its remaining shares in the airline in 2018, leaving Denmark and Sweden as the remaining state owners. The two countries have over 20 percent of shares in SAS each, making them the largest shareholders.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Norwegian state gave 1.5 billion Norwegian kroner to SAS via loan guarantees. It is this debt which could conceivably be converted to shares.

An alternative scenario would involve a new loan from the Norwegian government to SAS, DN writes, comparable to a refinancing agreement given to another Scandinavian airline, Norwegian, in 2021. In that scenario, the government accepted a reduction of the first loan before providing a second loan on new and stricter terms.

“It’s a known fact that SAS is in a difficult situation. The Norwegian state is already an indirect creditor of SAS because the company has made use of a loan guarantee scheme for the aviation industry,” Norway’s Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries told DN in a written comment on behalf of State Secretary Halvard Ingebrigtsen.

Swedish broadcaster SVT meanwhile reported on Thursday that the Chinese state is a potential part-owner of SAS.

In March, SAS sold four Airbus planes to an Irish subsidiary of the China Development Bank (CDB) and loaned them back on a leaseback agreement. SAS also has prior agreements with CDB.

Should SAS struggle with repayments, the Chinese company could potentially convert them to unpaid loans or shares in SAS, according to SVT.

READ ALSO: Scandinavian airline SAS hit by 1.5 billion kronor loss

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