Groundforce could lose licence over €769,000 debt
In the wake of a two-day strike by the staff at baggage handlers Groundforce, ANA, the company that manages Portugal’s airports, has said it will revoke the company’s licence because it owes debts of €769,000.
The cancellation of the licence to rent space at Faro and Madeira airports by the company that manages them could cause further chaos during the peak holiday season just as the UK government gave the green light for fully vaccinated travellers to holiday in Spain and Portugal.
The issue involves almost €800,000 of unpaid rental fees for space which, says ANA, has not been paid since March.
ANA Aeroportos has sent a letter stating it will revoke the licence to occupy the spaces and has until Friday to respond. In the letter it points out that the total debt for all of the airports now stands at €13 million.
The Minister of Infrastructures and Housing, Pedro Nuno Santos told parliament on Tuesday that the decision to revoke the licence had “nothing to do with Portway (an airline support company owned by ANA) since “Portway cannot be the sole operator at the airports.”
But Portway could easily step in and carry out the work currently done by Groundforce as it already conducts the automatic acceptance of passengers and baggage using its own system, as well as conducting passenger boarding.
Nuno Santos said, “ANA has not taken away the licence,” but has credits with a company and has “acted by making contact with this company.”
Furthermore, the minister said that national carrier TAP “owed Groundforce nothing” and added that TAP would pay Groundforce its usual fees for baggage handling services which would be “more than enough” to cover the payment of its 1,600 staff salaries and summer holiday subsidies by the end of July.
“The fear that ANA might use its position to favour its company just doesn’t add up because Portway is not allowed to be the sole operator at the airport. ANA is just protecting its position.”
Meanwhile, an imminent change in the shareholding structure of Groundforce is only days away. The bank Banco Montepio had applied to a court to take possession of the Groundforce shares (51%) that had been in the hands of principal shareholder Alfredo Casimiro (Pasogal), although the logistics and removals tycoon slapped an injunction to prevent the bank from doing so.
But the bank, which is owed money by the baggage handling company, was given the green light by a Lisbon court to become the main shareholder in Groundforce which will now try and sell its share to a European operator.
Banco Montepio has hired Bison Bank to organise a share auction for the shares held by Casimiro which have been seized.
The bank has already received a number of non-biding offers for the 50.1% share in Groundforce and now can advance with the sale.