SAS Agrees to Sells Ground-Handling Operations to Swissport

SAS Group, the biggest Nordic airline, plans to sell the majority of its ground-handling unit with 5,000 employees to Swissport International Ltd. as the carrier tries to stem losses.

SAS and Zurich-based Swissport will establish a joint venture, in which Swissport holds 51 percent and SAS 49 percent, according to a statement today. The partnership will include ground-handling services for passengers and cargo in Denmark, Sweden and Norway.

The move is part of a broader plan by SAS to raise a total of 3 billion kronor ($470 million). The push includes job cuts and the sale of assets including airport real estate, unused aircraft engines and Norwegian offshoot Wideroe to turn around the carrier that was last profitable on an annual basis in 2007.

SAS spokeswoman Malin Selander said the company aims to complete the agreement in late 2013, declining to provide financial details. SAS Chief Executive Rickard Gustafson told Svenska Dagbladet last month the company is in talks with “a couple´´ of potential buyers for Wideroe. SAS is due to report earnings for 2012 tomorrow.

Separately, SAS said it will extend cooperation with Sykes Enterprises Inc. and transfer more parts of its customer contact center to the Tampa, Florida-based company, expanding an agreement that started in 2010.

Swissport operates ground-handling services for about 118 million passengers and 3.5 million metric tons of cargo each year, including ticketing sales desks, gate services, aircraft loading, cleaning and crew transport at more than 190 airports worldwide, including Basel, Geneva and Zurich.

The company has more than 40,000 employees and is owned by private equity firm PAI Partners SAS, according to its website. It generates annual sales of about 2 billion Swiss francs ($2.1 billion).

Swissport spokeswoman Sabine Meinitz said she had no further comment.

SAS fell 0.4 Swedish krona, or 2.7 percent, to 14.20 krona in Stockholm, paring the gain in the past year to 74 percent.

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