The rescue of Air Austral, a very political mission

Jean-François Carenco, the new Minister Delegate for Overseas, has just been entrusted with a delicate mission: to find an agreement with Reunion on the future of Air Austral. The Reunionese airline, whose tense financial situation has been aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic, has been supported for months by the State and the region. The European Commission, which initially asked France to notify it of a rescue plan before the end of June, is getting impatient. But the meeting supposed to close the file, which was held the week of July 18 at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, ended in failure.

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During this meeting, the Bercy teams presented a plan concocted under the aegis of the CIRI (Interministerial Committee for Industrial Restructuring), involving a rapprochement between Air Austral and Corsair, its cousin in the West Indies. This arrangement, according to our information, consists of placing the two companies under a joint holding company into which 120 million euros of new money would be injected: 55 million euros of capital from Reunion, 30 million from West Indian investors and, finally, , 35 million paid by Equerre Capital Partners, the “redeployment” fund created by Patrick Puy and Pascal Lebard – the first is a veteran of corporate restructuring, the second, an investment specialist.

The fund would be at the helm, with the State providing support by waiving 320 million euros in debt relating mainly to Air Austral. “We are at work. Discussions are continuing between the French State, the Commission and the stakeholders in the file “, we limit ourselves to indicating to Bercy.

“Economic Patriotism”

The Réunion region, the main shareholder of the company through the semi-public company Sematra, does not want this scheme. “We have strong reservations”, recognizes a relative of the local authority, who wishes to remain anonymous, because the discussions are confidential. Huguette Bello, the president (various left) of the regional council, intends to keep control of the third local private employer (950 jobs), a key player in opening up the island. She had also called on the “economic patriotism” in order to bail out Air Austral.

She had been heard. The regional deliberative assembly had approved, on June 28, a rescue plan for the carrier, with 55 million euros in contributions issued by Sematra and local investors brought by the CEO of a group of private clinics, Michel Deleflie, also subject to waiver of debts granted by the State. For the elected officials of Reunion, there is no reason to add Corsair in the loop.

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