Offers fly for SAS’ regional airline

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It didn’t take long for offers to begin to fly, after Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) confirmed on Monday that it would sell its profitable regional airline Widerøe. The Norwegian domestic airline’s own pilots and employees aren’t the only ones eager to assume control.

Widerøe is a profitable domestic airline in Norway that SAS now needs to sell. Employees are eager to buy it. PHOTO: Widerøe

The employee group, led by pilot Ola Giæver and an unknown investor, launched their interest as soon as speculation started soaring last month that troubled SAS needed the capital gain that a sale of Widerøe could bring. Giæver sent a letter to Norway’s government minister in charge of business and trade, Trond Giske, in which he wrote that Widerøe employees wanted “the opportunity to take part in a purchase of Widerøes Flyselskap AS.”

Giæver stressed that Widerøe, which operates a fleet of 39 Bombadier Dash-8 turbo-prop aircraft, makes up “an important part of the infrastructure in Norway,” serving small communities all over the country. He noted that the employees have been working on a potential takeover of their own company for several years, but now the timing is right.

“When the owner (SAS) won’t invest in it, has a major pension bill to pay and earnings are poor, there’s just one thing to do: Sell your assets,” Giæver told newspaper Nordlys in Tromsø last month. The airline has been priced at around NOK 1 billion (USD 166 million).

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported Monday, after SAS confirmed the pending sale in connection with its own latest survival plan, that another interested buyer is Torghatten ASA, a large transportation company that also operates bus routes, ferries and fast ferries in Norway. Among them is the ferry line running between Moss and Horten in southern Norway.

NRK noted that Torghatten, an earlier shareholder in Widerøe that sold its stake to SAS when SAS took over 10 years ago, also may team with Giæver’s group. SAS chief executive Rickard Gustafson said SAS is negotiating with several potential Widerøe buyers.

Giæver told NRK on Monday that his group had “received signals that if we come with a good offer, it’s possible to buy Widerøe.” He said the employees want to keep Widerøe running as it is now. “We have very good administration (based in Bodø in northern Norway) and 1,350 employees who want to take part in this operation,” he said. Giæver seemed confident that a “new Widerøe” can be “a considerable player in Norwegian aviation in the future.”

Widerøe was founded in 1934 by five “enthusiastic friends,” one of whom was named Viggo Widerøe. It started service from Ingierstrand south of Oslo as an air taxi with ambulance, school transport and aerial photo flights.

It now operates more than 400 flights a day with 60 percent of its network consisting of commercial flights and the remainder so-called “public service obligations.” Widerøe flies to 40 destinations within Norway plus six international destinations including summer routes to places like the Swedish island of Gotland.

Widerøe’s information chief Silje Brandvoll was busy informing employees on Monday that SAS would sell their airline.

“We have delivered a profit for 13 years,” Brandvoll told NRK. “Widerøe is an airline that can stand on its own and it’s important for us and our customers that the product we deliver through the Star Alliance will continue. We have understood that SAS wants that, too.”

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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