Sweden seeks approval for SAS sale

The Swedish government has announced plans for the sale of its stake in SAS Scandinavian Airlines after seeking parliamentary approval on Thursday.

“There is no immediate sale in view but we do not see any use in our being a shareholder in an airline and that is why we are asking Parliament to be able to reduce our stake when we can do so most profitably,” Enterprise Minister Maud Olofsson said in a statement.

The Swedish government is the single largest shareholder in SAS with a 21.4 percent stake, while Denmark and Norway each hold 14.3 percent. The rest is privately held.

The centre-right government of Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt operates a general policy to sell state assets that it believes are better off in private hands.

The government confirmed on Thursday that it would still take part in SAS’ planned €500-million ($700 million) cash raising exercise to help it cope with the slump in air travel sparked by the global financial crisis.

The Swedish state currently controls 41 companies and has interests in 13 others that employ some 170,000 people combined.

The last privatisations in Sweden were carried out in 2009 in the pharmacies sector.

Earlier this month, SAS reported a worse-than-expected fourth quarter net loss of 1.3 billion kronor and said it would cut 650 jobs.

“The sharp downturn in the economy led to an extremely large decline in business travel, which had a significant impact on the entire aviation industry,” SAS said in its earnings statement.

“Market conditions deteriorated far more extensively than originally expected when the Core SAS strategy was initiated a year ago,” it added.

SAS’s loss over the whole of 2009 was 2.95 billion kronor, down from 6.36 billion kronor in 2008, while sales fell 15 percent to 44.92 billion kronor.

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‘We agree to disagree’: Still no progress in marathon SAS strike talks

By lunchtime on Friday, talks between the Scandinavian airline SAS and unions representing striking pilots were still stuck on "difficult issues".

'We agree to disagree': Still no progress in marathon SAS strike talks

“We agree that we disagree,” Roger Klokset, from the Norwegian pilots’ union, said at lunchtime outside the headquarters of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise in Stockholm, where talks are taking place. “We are still working to find a solution, and so long as there is still some point in continuing negotiations, we will do that.” 

Mats Ruland, a mediator for the Norwegian government, said that there were “still several difficult issues which need to be solved”. 

At 1pm on Friday, the two sides took a short break from the talks for lunch, after starting at 9am. On Thursday, they negotiated for 15 hours, breaking off at 1am on Friday morning. 

READ ALSO: What’s the latest on the SAS plane strike?

Marianne Hernæs, SAS’s negotiator on Friday told journalists she was tired after sitting at the negotiating table long into the night. 

“We need to find a model where we can meet in the middle and which can ensure that we pull in the income that we are dependent on,” she said. 

Klokset said that there was “a good atmosphere” in the talks, and that the unions were sticking together to represent their members.

“I think we’ve been extremely flexible so far. It’s ‘out of this world’,’ said Henrik Thyregod, with the Danish pilots’ union. 

“This could have been solved back in December if SAS had not made unreasonable demands on the pilots,” Klokset added. 

The strike, which is now in its 12th day, has cost SAS up to 130m kronor a day, with 2,550 flights cancelled by Thursday, affecting 270,000 passengers.