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France, Brussels have agreed on Air France-KLM refinancing – minister

Logo of Air France KLM Group is pictured on the first Air France airliner's Airbus A350 during a ceremony at the aircraft builder's headquarters of Airbus in Colomiers

PARIS (Reuters) -The French government has reached the outline of a deal with the European Commission on a state-backed refinancing package to help strengthen Air France-KLM’s balance sheet, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Sunday.

Le Maire, speaking on LCI TV, declined to comment on the amount involved. He confirmed that the airline group’s board was due to meet on Monday to discuss and approve the package, as successive coronavirus shutdowns take their toll.

Air France-KLM, which last year received 10.4 billion euros ($12.2 billion) in government-backed loans, has been discussing a multi-stage recapitalisation plan to lighten the resulting debt load, sources have said.

This will likely involve converting a 3 billion-euro French government loan into hybrid instruments.

But the plan had been held up by wrangling over EU demands that Air France give up Paris-Orly take-off and landing slots as a condition.

Le Maire said the airline had given up some slots in negotiations, but not the 24 initially demanded by Brussels, which would have put Air France on a par with those ceded by Germany’s Lufthansa in Frankfurt and Munich as part of its state-backed capital hike.

“It has been a long and difficult negotiation but I think we have reached a good deal with (EU competition chief) Margrethe Vestager,” Le Maire said.

France and the Netherlands each own close to 14% of Air France-KLM, and the Dutch state has held separate EU talks over converting its 1 billion euro loan to KLM into hybrid debt in return for slot concessions at Amsterdam-Schiphol.

(Reporting by Sarah White and Jean-Stephane Brosse;Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Alison Williams)

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