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Bratislava court decision grounds Slovak airplanes again

A recent decision by the Bratislava Regional Court has reversed a controversial deicision by the Transport Ministry to lease two of its three TU-154 aircraft to the private Air Transport Europe (ATE) airline.
In two separate decisions on April 13 and 19, Bratislava judges claimed that the former lessor of the aircraft, one-time "national" air carrier Slovenské Aerolínie, were still legally contracted to the Ministry and thus the planes could not be leased by a third company.
Created during the government of former Prime Minister Vladimir Mečiar, privately-owned Slovenské Aerolínie was given all three Russian-debt purchased planes and positioned as the state's national airline. The planes operated from May 1998 until January 15, 1999, when the Transport Minister Gabriel Palacka annulled the lease contracts with the company and confiscated the aircraft.


The state's three TU-154s will remain grounded due to a court ruling.
photo: Courtesy of Slovak Airlines

A recent decision by the Bratislava Regional Court has reversed a controversial deicision by the Transport Ministry to lease two of its three TU-154 aircraft to the private Air Transport Europe (ATE) airline.

In two separate decisions on April 13 and 19, Bratislava judges claimed that the former lessor of the aircraft, one-time "national" air carrier Slovenské Aerolínie, were still legally contracted to the Ministry and thus the planes could not be leased by a third company.

Created during the government of former Prime Minister Vladimir Mečiar, privately-owned Slovenské Aerolínie was given all three Russian-debt purchased planes and positioned as the state's national airline. The planes operated from May 1998 until January 15, 1999, when the Transport Minister Gabriel Palacka annulled the lease contracts with the company and confiscated the aircraft.

The reason for doing so, according to Palacka, was that Slovenské Aerolínie operated without a valid license which had been revoked back in November 1998.

Ministry officials said that the recent court decisions had only deadlocked the use of the aircraft until the contractual relations between the Ministry and Slovenské Aerolínie would be resolved.

"As it could have been expected, the court has just frozen the current status, when the planes can't be operated by anyone," said Andrej Žiarovský, general director of the Ministry's Civil Aviation Administration

But Milan Hoholík, ATE director, doubted that the contract with the Ministry would be fulfilled. "Regarding the problematic relations between the Ministry and Slovenské Aerolínie it's highly probable, that the planes won't be handed over [to ATE] on time, but we won't make any pressure [on the Ministry] to get them," Hoholík said.

Hoholík explained that his company has already signed contracts with travel agencies to carry over 50,000 passengers in charter flights during the summer season. The company will now have to lease another aircraft from abroad to fulfill the committment with the travel agencies, he added.

The ongoing battle between the Minstry and Slovenské Aerolínie took a new turn with the court decision. According to Mladý, the court decision proved that the Ministry took the planes from Slovenské Aerolínie illegally, due to which the airline suffered huge financial losses.

Earlier in April, the Ministry had issued an appeal to start legal proceedings against Slovenské Aerolínie for retaining the technical documentation for the aircraft despite the fact that the company has not operated the planes since January.

But Mladý, in reaction to the Ministry's step, claimed that Slovenské Aerolínie, as a valid lessor of the aircraft, couldn't give the documents to the Ministry. "We're still responsible for the planes, we have valid a insurance contract for the planes and we still pay the insurance, so we can't just give the documentation away," he said.

In addition, Mladý continued, the Ministry asked for such documents as the noise certification, which Slovenské Aerolínie had arranged at its own expense. "That belongs to the company's know-how and I can't see the reason why should we give someone our know-how," he added.

Žiarovský, for his part, said that the Ministry had only asked for the basic documentation for the planes, so that it could be given to the newly contracted lessor, Air Transport Europe.

According to the rules stipulated in the tender, the new lessor was supposed to start operation of the two Russian TU-154 aircraft in May.

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