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Charter airline rents two state planes

Two Russian TU-154 aircraft owned by the Transport Ministry will be leased by Air Transport Europe until the end of 1999, according to the details of the tender announced April 1. But Slovenské Aerolínie, the nation's one-time national carrier, claims that the deal was unfair and that losing the tender will cast them even deeper into debt.
For Air Transport Europe, the planes will help out greatly with summer charter and tourist flights, said ATE director, Milan Hoholík, who added that it was better for his company to have planes of Slovak ownership than lease them from abroad. Currently, ATE runs charter flights with two of its own aircraft, a 76-seater TU-134 and a 17-seater L-410. The company also has a fleet of helicopters and performs mechanical and air rescue services.
"We have contracts with several travel agencies and generally operate eight flights a week on average during the summer season...so the planes would be a great help," he said.


Two state owned TU-154 airplanes will be leased for the summer by Air Transport Europe.
photo: Courtesy Slovenské Aerolínie

Two Russian TU-154 aircraft owned by the Transport Ministry will be leased by Air Transport Europe until the end of 1999, according to the details of the tender announced April 1. But Slovenské Aerolínie, the nation's one-time national carrier, claims that the deal was unfair and that losing the tender will cast them even deeper into debt.

For Air Transport Europe, the planes will help out greatly with summer charter and tourist flights, said ATE director, Milan Hoholík, who added that it was better for his company to have planes of Slovak ownership than lease them from abroad. Currently, ATE runs charter flights with two of its own aircraft, a 76-seater TU-134 and a 17-seater L-410. The company also has a fleet of helicopters and performs mechanical and air rescue services.

"We have contracts with several travel agencies and generally operate eight flights a week on average during the summer season...so the planes would be a great help," he said.

Slovenské Aerolínie, on the other hand, announced that the loss of the tender would cost the company an additional $11 million, as it would be forced to cancel the contracted flights for over 100,000 people in the summer season of 1999. The privately-owned air company had been created and labelled Slovakia's "national airline" under former prime minister Vladimír Mečiar. Grounded since January 15 and deprived of its operating license due to heavy debts, the company is still seeking to restart operations.

In discussing the tender, the head of Slovenské Aerolínie also claimed that a final-hour switch in its details had left his company at a disadvantage.

Originally, the Ministry had offered the three TU-154 planes for a lease in a February 26 tender, but Ministry officials claimed that neither of the two bidders had met the tender criteria.

The Ministry then decided to change the conditions and offered the planes for a short-term rent, said Andrej Žiarovský, general director of Civil Aviation Administration at the Ministry. A ministry committee asked both tender participants to prepare new bids for short-term lease of the aircraft on March 23.

However, only two planes were offered for the lease, as the Interior ministry was granted use of the third.

"The change was made with respect to the upcoming summer season and the Ministry was interested in having the planes used during the season," Žiarovský said.

According to Žiarovský, only Air Transport Europe (ATE) responded and submitted a draft contract for the short-term lease. The Ministry will sign a lease contract with the firm in the first half of April.

But Slovenské Aerolínie has still not let the subject of the first tender go. According to Pavol Mladý, Slovenské Aerolínie's general director, his company was best prepared for the tender and its failure was a part of "a scenario planned beforehand."

The airline said it believes it is the best equipped to operate the planes, as it had used them from May 1998 to January 1999. Under the government of Mečiar, the three TU-154 planes had been bought from the Russian government in exchange for release from part of the Russian debt and were given, free of charge, for use by Slovenské Aerolínie.

"We now look like fools who don't know how to prepare for a tender for the planes we had already operated," Mladý said.

The Transport Minister Gabriel Palacka issued an order to revoke the license from Slovenské Aerolínie in November 1998. On January 15, the Ministry confiscated the three TU-154 aircraft from the company, claiming illegal operation without a license and later cancelled Slovenské Aerolínie's status of a national air carrier.

Mladý claimed that this action was also unjust, and that Slovenské Aerolínie was unfairly accused of advantageous conditions in the market and gross financial fraud of state money. "I think this game [with the Ministry] is not over yet and it will continue, but it will continue somewhere else. We will take all possible steps using measures of legal proceedings to defend our firm," Mladý said.

"The Ministry didn't tell us why we didn't meet the criteria and in what. If they say what was the problem with our company, fine, I'd accept that but all they do is say that we didn't meet the requirements," he complained.

The Ministry's Žiarovský said that by the end of 1999, the Ministry intends to announce a tender on the sale of the aircraft. "We realized that a long-term rent is not suitable for the Slovak air market," he said.

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