Price was right for SAS: Norway minister on airline sale

Minister for Trade and Industry Torbjørn Røe Isaksen said that the government’s decision to sell its shares in joint Scandinavian airline SAS had come “at the right time”.

Price was right for SAS: Norway minister on airline sale
Norway's Minister for Trade and Industry Torbjørn Røe Isaksen. Photo: Terje Bendiksby / NTB scanpix

Isaksen’s ministry announced on Tuesday that it would sell 37.8 million shares, which correspond to around 9.88 percent of the airline's capital, to “institutional investors”.

The sale will earn the Norwegian state around 652 million Swedish kronor (around 597 million Norwegian kroner), Ritzau reports.

No information has yet been released as to the identity of the buyer or buyers.

“We have owned 9.88 percent of SAS and have made it known for some time that we did not see ourselves as long-term owners,” Isaksen told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

Speaking on NRK’s Nyhetsmorgen programme, the minister said that justification for Norwegian state ownership of SAS had changed.

“We ensure that there are flights to where people live in a completely different way today. The other reason is that the government’s position is that ownership in the private sector is important but there must be a special reason for it,” he said.

“When there is no longer any reason for us to own, we sell our share,” he continued.

SAS was founded in 1946 as a joint Scandinavian effort to increase air traffic between the Nordic region and North and South America.

The minister went on to say that he did not believe the sale would affect Norwegian jobs.

“We owe shares for various reasons. We own a lot of Equinor [petrol and energy company, formerly Statoil, ed.] because we want the base of the company to be in our country, but the ownership of SAS has been about getting as much as possible for our investment,” he said.

After a number of difficult years for SAS, the airline has seen a recent upturn in fortunes with profits of 1.4 billion Swedish kronor announced last year.

With the government’s main objective ensuring a return for its share, it was expected that a sale would come soon, Prime Minister Erna Solberg said to NRK on Tuesday.

“Our assessment is that this is a very reasonable price compared to the value of other airlines. It was a good and correct time to sell,” Isaksen said to the broadcaster.

READ ALSO: Norway sells remaining SAS airline stake


‘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.