Norwegian Air staff protest outside parliament against lack of state aid

OSLO (Reuters) – Norwegian Air staff demonstrated on Wednesday against the government’s decision to deny more aid to the crisis-hit budget carrier, while its biggest shareholder, Aercap Holdings, reduced its stake in the airline.

Around a hundred Norwegian Air employees in uniform demonstrated in front of the parliament building to seek more state support for the airline and the rest of the industry.

They carried signs with slogans such as “Support Norwegian”, “Save our jobs” and “Red nose warriors” referring to the distinctive colour of the tips of the carrier’s planes.

“I hope the government can help us,” said cabin crew Stina Nielsen, 31. “This is my life. We want to be able to go back to work.”

Inside parliament, Conservative Prime Minister Erna Solberg, who rules in a minority, repeated the government’s reluctance to provide more direct financial aid for Norwegian, arguing it would primarily benefit foreign creditors.

Norwegian should seek to refinance or restructure its balance sheet, she said, pointing to the carrier’s net interest-bearing debt of 48.5 billion crowns ($5.4 billion) as a major obstacle.

“We’ve told Norwegian Air that we don’t have any money for equity,” Solberg told parliament. “The ball is now in their court.”

Despite the earlier rescue package, which included a government loan guarantee, pandemic-hit Norwegian Air could run out of cash in the first quarter of 2021 unless it secures funding, the carrier has said.

Meanwhile, leasing company AerCap Holdings said on Wednesday it had cut its shareholding to 9% from 13.4% held as of Sept. 30. Norwegian had converted a portion of its debt into shares as part of a rescue package, making AerCap its largest shareholder and giving other leasing firms substantial ownership.

AerCap took a seat on Norwegian’s board, but its representative resigned last week.

An AerCap spokeswoman declined to comment when asked about further share sale plans.

In addition to its remaining shares, AerCap also holds bonds which could be converted into an additional stake of 5.9%.

Norwegian’s shares were down 3.0% by 1202 GMT to 0.46 crowns.

Writing by Terje Solsvik; Additional reporting by Laurence Frost in Paris; Editing by Jan Harvey and Elaine Hardcastle

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