NEWS BRIEFS

Ministry looks for buyers for its three Russian TU-154M airplanes

Two companies have submitted bids in a tender announced by the Slovak Ministry of Transport, Postal Services, and Telecommunications, for the operation and lease of three Russian TU-154M passenger jets owned by the ministry and formerly leased by national carrier Slovenské Aerolínie (SA).

The previous government of Vladimír Mečiar decided to establish SA as a national air carrier in January 1997. The airline was to be given Russian airplanes that were to be imported to Slovakia from Russia as repayment of Russian debt towards Slovakia. At its height, SA operated a single regular line between Bratislava and Moscow twice a week.

The new government stripped SA of its license for "irreglarities" in November and put the planes on the auction block. But problems still remain because neither of the companies bidding for the jets - SA and Poprad's Air Transport Europe - fully meets the criteria of the tender. The Defence Ministry has said it can use the planes, but the Ministry of Transport said it will not consider that option until a more complete search for a private operator has been completed.

SA operated the three planes until January 20, 1999, when their lease contracts were annulled. Short term summer leases for the planes are also being considered.

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