(AFP) – Jan 14, 2009
PRAGUE (AFP) — Struggling Slovak low-cost airline SkyEurope said Wednesday its fleet had shrunk to five planes over the past few months from an original fifteen Boeing 737s it had last autumn.
SkyEurope suffered the last blow a week ago, when it had to return six planes to a leasing company "based on a mutual agreement," its chief executive Jason Bitter told reporters in Prague.
But "the business is going quite well, despite the setback," he added.
"Our schedule integrity is 100 percent," he said in order to dispel doubts about SkyEurope's ability to service all its flights, for which prices now start at 19 euros (25 US dollars), according to the company's website.
Amid the current crisis "there's a number of free aircraft available worldwide," and SkyEurope is now flying "two aircraft of Air Slovakia with their cabin crews," he explained.
SkyEurope with bases in Prague, Bratislava, Kosice and Vienna has never posted a profit in the six years of its existence.
The company listed in Vienna posted a loss of 59.4 million euros in the last financial year ending September 30, compared to 24.07 million last year, while its revenue grew 10.5 percent to 260.9 million euros from 236.2 million euros last year.
The airline also owes its owner, the York Global Finance fund which controls 30 percent of the carrier, some 25 million euros in two loans for which payment has been put off several times.
Bitter said the airline, which is "continuing to talk to potential investors," is planning to buy three Boeing planes in the summer despite the bleak overall picture.
"We have an agreement in principle to finance one of them... and with the other two we're working on securing financing," he said, adding sale and leaseback was a time-tested option.
Bitter said he was now betting above all on lower fuel prices, increased efficiency owing to adjusted routes, as well as on "cash in excess of 14 million euros" that has started to come in from a debtor.
"We think we found the right mix now. What we have now works. We have done the surgery and now we have to reap the benefits," he added.
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