TAP paid US$444 million for new aircraft

 In Aviation, News, TAP

Former majority shareholder in Portuguese airline TAP, David Neeleman may have made €44 million in profit in the purchase and sale contract of his stake in the national carrier.

The US-Brazilian airline mogul bought a majority shareholding from the Portuguese State in the airline in 2015, yet sold his TAP shareholdings in 2016 and 2020 back to the Portuguese State.
According to CNN and Correio de Manhã, David Neeleman may have effectively bought his shareholding in TAP using tax payers’ money, and then sold the airline back to the government and made a profit.
A first contract with Airbus was for just a lease-purchase of 12 new aircraft. Neeleman then closed a deal with Airbus for 53 new aircraft for €211 million. He then, it is alleged, used a complicated contract manoeuvre to use that €211 million to buy his controlling share in TAP, later selling his share in the airline and netting a €44 million profit without it costing him practically anything.
Under the terms of the contract, in case of non-fulfilment, TAP would have to pay Airbus €211 million if it ended up by buying less than the 53 aircraft foreseen. So what is known here? According to Expresso, before buying his controlling share in TAP, David Neeleman asked Airbus to change the contract because he thought the airline should exchange the 12 A350 for 53 of manufacturer’s latest NEO planes.
It is suspected that the cost of leasing the new planes from Airbus was way above the amounts paid by rivals and this is what led the former minster of Infrastructures, Pedro Nuno Santos to send the dossier of his suspicions with a complaint to Portugal’s Public Ministry which has now opened an investigation.
How did David Neeleman do it? This is not clear, but police investigators at Portugal’s criminal investigation department DCIAP are investigating whether by changing order contracts implying the purchase of far more Airbus aircraft than had been initially envisioned, TAP may have paid €320 million over the odds in a €1.6Bn deal that was renegotiated in early 2020 during the pandemic.
What is known is that a former infrastructure minister, Pedro Nuno Santos recalled the privatisation of TAP carried out by the PSD/CDS-PP government, partially reversed in 2015, in a deal in which TAP was sold for €10 million to “a shareholder who further indebted TAP”. It was the private management led by this shareholder (David Neeleman) who took the decision to renew the airline’s fleet of aircraft.
The deal now under investigation harks back to 2015 when David Neeleman became a TAP shareholder. The President of the airline was Fernando Pinto at that time. TAP had signed a contract to buy just 12 A350 Airbus.
When David Neeleman took over, Neeleman changed the contract in exchange for a new one which agreed to buy 53 new aircraft – all new models (A320 NEO, A321 NEO, A330-900NEO).
Citing a legal analysis from Serra Lopes, Cortes Martins & Associados (SLCM) and Airborne Capital, a specialist consultancy in leasing aircraft, the news site ‘ECO’ revealed last week that in this contract exchange, “Neeleman had shortchanged TAP by US$444 million.
ECO also reported that Airbus transferred US$226.75 million to a company controlled by Neeleman which was then transferred to Atlantic Gateway, a consortium set up by entrepreneur and TAP shareholder Humberto Pedrosa to purchase 61% of TAP.
The question is if this US$226.75 million paid by the aircraft manufacturer was used by Atlantic Gateway for the capital input that Neeleman and Pedroso needed to buy Atlantic Gateway’s share in TAP which ensured its privatisation?
David Neeleman said in October last year that the “new TAP planes were acquired at the market price, as various independent evaluations were presented and confirmed by rigorous and exhaustive technical and political scrutiny” had confirmed.
David Neeleman had always argued that the changed the order with Airbus because TAP didn’t need them, but needed the long-haul A330s and A321s because they were more profitable and TAP could use them to fly to Toronto, Boston, New York and Chicago at lower costs.
“I didn’t take a single cent from TAP. I am bringing all this value and I cannot take out a cent until TAP’s debts have been paid off”, he told the current affairs magazine Visão in 2016.
The Portuguese Government which is now the main shareholder in TAP, is now considering a partial sale of the airline rather than a full sell off.
This would enable it to retain between 10% and 20% of the shares in order to ensure a seat on the board of directors to represent the Portuguese national interest according to Jornal Económico.

Photo: Lusa