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ARGENTINIAN COMPANY SURPRISED BY BEING LISTED AS POTENTIAL INVESTOR TO BRATISLAVA AIRPORT

Airport sale, distant deal

DESPITE lingering uncertainty over how and when the Bratislava airport will be privatised, the Transportation Ministry announced that several international investors have declared their interest in the venue.
Before the airport can be transferred into private hands, the ministry says the state-run Slovak Airport Authority (SSL) must be transformed.
"In the first stage, in 2004, two joint stock companies operating the Bratislava airport and the Košice airport will be launched," Dana Pajdlhauserová from the ministry's press department told The Slovak Spectator.

DESPITE lingering uncertainty over how and when the Bratislava airport will be privatised, the Transportation Ministry announced that several international investors have declared their interest in the venue.

Before the airport can be transferred into private hands, the ministry says the state-run Slovak Airport Authority (SSL) must be transformed.

"In the first stage, in 2004, two joint stock companies operating the Bratislava airport and the Košice airport will be launched," Dana Pajdlhauserová from the ministry's press department told The Slovak Spectator.

"That can occur under the condition that the parliament approves a law on airport operators. If the law is passed later than anticipated, the transformation will have to be postponed, because that law ensures that infrastructure remains intact," she said.

The government will be the sole stockholder of the companies, and later minority stakes are to be transferred to local and regional administrations with jurisdiction over the airports.

In the next stage, a majority share is to be transferred to private investors.

"In 2004 an international adviser for the tender will be selected, and in 2005 a strategic partner is to be chosen from the tender," said Pajdlhauserová.

Some critics say it is not necessary to sell the airport to foreign investors.

"It is meaningless to look for a strategic partner in the upcoming years. Firstly, we don't need him, and secondly, we would be cheap prey. It would be better to wait," said Bratislava city council member František Dej in an interview with the daily Pravda.

However, the ministry not only says privatisation will go ahead; it already has a list of potential investors - two from Austria and one from Argentina.

"The representatives from the mentioned countries presented their interest at a meeting with Transportation Minister Pavol Prokopovič," said Pajdlhauserová.

She confirmed that the Argentinean company in question is Aeropuertos Argentina 2000 (AA).

When The Slovak Spectator asked AA representatives to comment on their future role in the privatisation process, they seemed to be taken by surprise.

"We have no knowledge about the subject matter of your inquiry," said Mariana Caballier, communications manager for AA.

"We would kindly appreciate it if you could tell us where you got the information that our company is linked to the Bratislava Airport," Caballier said.

"Nevertheless, we do believe SEA, the company running Milan Airport, could have some kind of knowledge about the information referenced in your letter. Unfortunately, we cannot put you in contact with them but we would be very grateful to hear from you again giving us more information about this issue," she added on September 22.

When The Slovak Spectator on the same day informed AA that the information had been provided by the Transportation Ministry and widely published in the Slovak press, the AA representative replied:

"Basically, we have furnished our proposals and expressed 'our interest', as duly stated by the Minister. However, the privatisation process has not been officially defined yet. Consequently, we prefer to keep this issue confidential until the government makes the official announcement, and thus, we prefer to keep our development plans for the airport under strict reserve."

The main shareholder of the Aeropuertos Argentina 2000 consortium, which has a concession to run a network of 33 airports in Argentina, is entrepreneur Eduard Eurnekian. An international arrest warrant for Eurnekian had been issued in July on tax evasion charges, reported the Buenos Aires Herald newspaper.

Eurnekian has also been awarded a 30-year contract from the Armenian government to manage the Yerevan Airport.

"The award was criticized for alleged favouritism and for its closed bidding process, although the Armenian government dismissed these objections and claimed the group would invest in modernizing and upgrading the airport," reported Radio Free Europe.

The first of the two known potential Austrian investors is the Vienna Airport. The state-run TASR news wire has reported that acquiring the Bratislava airport is one of the company's most crucial mid-term objectives.

Vienna airport director Herbert Kaufman also said that allegations indicating his airport would like to get rid of unwanted competition presented by the Bratislava airport embitter the Vienna management, according to TASR.

"Vienna International Airport is very much interested in cooperating with Bratislava Airport. In general we will not communicate our strategy on this project via media," company spokesperson Hans Mayer told The Slovak Spectator.

However, Mayer did point out some reasons for collaboration.

"One fact will be the fast growing economy within the Bratislava - Györ- Vienna triangle, with a high potential for both airports,"

Mayer also stressed that "the transparency of the selection process should be a top issue following international standards, in order to avoid a bad international reputation" and said the tender "could be a signal for other international projects in Slovakia".

On August 25, Transportation Minister Prokopovič met with the president of Austrian Airlines, which had requested a meeting with the state official, reported the SITA news wire. The airline boss expressed interest in privatising the Bratislava airport.

"[Austrian Airlines] is considering privatisation in connection with the possibility of using the Bratislava airport as an alternative to the Vienna airport and redirecting a portion of its operation. Their aims in this field depend on the finalization of fast connection between the airports," said Pajdlhauserová.

The fees that airline operators are charged by the Vienna airport are among the highest in Europe, and the Austrian transport company is therefore planning to use the Bratislava airport more extensively, regardless of its involvement in the privatisation process.

Pajdlhauserová has also confirmed that the US-based Glenealy International unofficially requested information on the possibility of participating in the transformation.

Although the sale of the Bratislava airport is still distant, ministry officials have said what the main selection criteria will be once the process is launched:

"The main criteria for the selection of the foreign investor will be its contribution to the development of the Slovak airport and the development of the Slovak economy," said Pajdlhauserová

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