Sunday, October 28, 2012

PLUNA CRJ-900's - Part I - Cosmo Out, BQB Out, Air Nostrum in ? Conviasa in ? Molinari in ?

During the last three weeks there have been near-daily changes in the situation with the auction of the seven company-owned ex-PLUNA CRJ-900's.  

The unfolding of events resulted in the Spanish airline Cosmo Airlines not being able to fulfill the commitment it made to buy the aircraft at auction, BQB Lineas Aereas seeming to step in to buy them but then withdrawing and the appearance of a new possible buyer, Argentine real estate magnate Carlos Molinari.

As of now, Mr. Molinari has made a proposal to purchase the CRJ-900's and start a new airline, and the plans of former PLUNA employees to start a new Uruguayan national airline using the six leased-in ex-PLUNA CRJ-900's with Air Nostrum or Conviasa of Venezuela are still alive.

Here is the timeline of events:

04Oct12:  BQB Proposal to the Uruguayan Government

Lopez Mena made a proposal to the Uruguayan government to operate most of the former PLUNA routes using the seven CRJ-900's purchased by Cosmo while leasing all the aircraft from the Uruguayan government for US$ 500,000 per month for five years, which is very cheap considering that the respected British aviation publication Flight Global estimated the monthly lease rate of CRJ-900's to be US$ 240,000 back in 2006. 

He also proposed to operate the routes free of charge, including the lucrative "Air Bridge" between Buenos Aires and Montevideo, with no payments by BQB to the Uruguayan government.  Some officials questioned why Lopez Mena was making an offer to lease the aircraft from the Uruguayan government instead of Cosmo, the presumed future owner of the planes.  It seemed that he knew that Cosmo was not going to be able to pay for them.

05Oct12:  Link between Cosmo and BQB

It was learned that the individual making the winning (and only) bid for the planes at the October 1 auction on behalf of Cosmo Airlines, Hernán Antonio Calvo Sánchez, was a former employee of BQB owner Juan Carlos Lopez Mena.  Additionally, he only used part of his legal name in an apparent attempt to disguise his identity. These two factors raised suspicions that Cosmo and BQB were cooperating to acquire the aircraft through some kind of a scam.  

09Oct12:  Cosmo does not pay Auction Fees

Cosmo failed to pay the US$ 835,000 auctioneer's commission on the sale of the aircraft, a relatively small sum, casting doubts on the airline's ability to pay for the planes.

10Oct12:  Government rejects BQB Proposal

The Uruguayan government rejected BQB's proposal, stating that it wanted payment for the route rights.  

10Oct12:  Boston Seguros paid Auction Guarantee

It was revealed that the 10% down payment (US$ 13.7 million) of the auction selling price of the CRJ-900's was not guaranteed by Cosmo Airlines itself, but by Boston Seguros, an Argentine company that counts Lopez Mena among its customers, further bringing into question Cosmo's ability to pay the full US$ 137 million price that it bid on the aircraft.

10Oct12:  Cosmo Owners confirm that they cannot buy ex-PLUNA CRJ-900's

Spaniards Miguel Castro Marin and Miguel Valentin Martin Lucas, owners of 50% of Cosmo confirmed that the airline does not have the cash to pay for the CRJ-900's and claimed that they only learned of the purchase via the press and do not even know Hernán Antonio Calvo Sánchez, the purported representative of the airline that made the winning bid on the aircraft !  The airline is capitalized with only 7.6 million euros and does not even have an operating license.

10Oct12:  Uruguay to Consider Open Skies Policy

With the nation's air connectivity at risk, especially during the upcoming summer tourist season, the Uruguayan government announced that it was considering declaring an "Open Skies" policy for five months allowing carriers of any nationality to fly freely to/from Uruguay without restrictions regarding  origin, destination or frequencies.

10Oct12:  Air Nostrum meets with Uruguayan Officials

Representatives of the Spanish commuter carrier met with Uruguayan officials to discuss their joint proposal with ex-PLUNA employees to start a new carrier.

10Oct12:  Argentine Real Estate Magnate Carlos Molinari Makes Proposal for New Carrier  
Multimillionaire Argentine businessman Carlos Molinari met with Uruguayan president Jose Mujica with a proposal to start a new Uruguayan flag carrier using all 13 former PLUNA CRJ-900's flying all of the former routes of the carrier plus some new ones too while employing some 400 workers in the beginning.  The agreement would be for a period of ten years.

Sources: El Pais Uruguay, various articles 05-11Oct12

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