Air France on Tuesday said it would receive a new bailout from the French government worth 4 billion euros ($4.7 billion) to help the beleaguered airline cope with mounting debts as a third wave of pandemic lockdowns around Europe prolong a slump in continental air travel.
The support comes on top of €10.4 billion ($12.3 billion) in loans and guarantees that Air France and its partner, the Netherlands-based KLM, received from the French and Dutch governments last year.
Air France-KLM chief executive, Benjamin Smith, citing an “exceptionally challenging period,” said the funds would “provide Air France-KLM with greater stability to move forward when recovery starts, as large-scale vaccination progresses around the world and borders reopen.”
Bruno Le Maire, France’s finance minister, said Tuesday that the new aid is taking the form of a state-backed recapitalization, which involves converting €3 billion in loans the government granted the airline last year into bonds with no maturity, as well as €1 billion in fresh capital through the issuance of new shares.
Delta Air Lines announced it would add more passengers and start selling middle seats for flights starting May 1, more than a year after it decided to leave them empty to ensure social distancing.
By contrast, Europe’s vaccine rollout has faltered and infections of new variants of the virus have gained ground, prompting renewed travel restrictions in France and neighboring countries. That is slowing a recovery in travel and leaving major flagship air carriers, including Air France-KLM, Lufthansa of Germany, and Alitalia of Italy, struggling.
The French government recently cut its economic growth forecast for 2021 to 5 percent, down from a 6 percent forecast before the new lockdown.
struck a deal over the terms of strengthening the carrier’s balance sheet.
The Dutch government is holding separate talks with European regulators over converting a €1 billion loan to KLM into hybrid debt in return for slot concessions at the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.
Air France employs tens of thousands of workers in France and is considered too big to fail. Still, Mr. Le Maire said the aid was not a “blank check” to the company, which he said would have to “make efforts on competitiveness” in exchange for the support and must continue to reduce its carbon emissions.
To conform to European competition rules, Air France was forced to relinquish 18 slots per day, representing nine round-trips, to competing airlines at Orly, Paris’ second-largest airport after Charles de Gaulle.