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British Airways Says It May Sell Property If Losses Widen

Airlines: Carrier is more dependent on North Atlantic routes than its rivals. It has $1.46 billion in cash but will draw on real estate if needed.

September 24, 2001|From Bloomberg News

LONDON — British Airways, Europe's biggest airline, said Sunday it might sell some real estate to raise cash if losses from terrorist attacks in the U.S. earlier this month widen.

The carrier, which is more dependent on North Atlantic routes than rivals, has $1.46 billion in cash to draw on, spokesman Paul Parry said, though its property holdings will provide another cushion if more cash is needed.

"Should it be absolutely necessary, we have the means through our property to raise more money," Parry said. He said the airline hasn't put property up for sale.

The comments come after terrorist acts pushed an industry already suffering from slowing growth into a situation in which it's impossible to gauge how bad things will get, particularly as the U.S. response has yet to unfold.

About 13.5% of British Airways' seats are used on Europe-to-U.S. routes, the highest number for a European airline. More than half the carrier's operating profit comes from those routes, analysts say.

European airlines are likely to post losses of $2.5 billion to $3 billion in 2001 as the attacks deal a further blow to the industry, according to estimates by the Assn. of European Airlines.

Among big properties that British Airways might sell and lease back would be Compass Center, the airline's operations and control center at Heathrow Airport, and Waterside, its head offices near Heathrow.

The Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Times and Observer newspapers earlier reported that Chief Executive Rod Eddington said the airline was prepared to sell assets if necessary.

Another way British Airways could save money would be to eliminate its dividend, many analysts have said. Even before the Sept. 11 attacks, analysts including Mike Powell at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein said the airline might cut the dividend.

American depositary receipts of British Airways rose 18 cents Friday to close at $22.21 on the New York Stock Exchange. They have lost 61% year to date.

Several major European airlines have said they'll examine their spending and investments, but none, with the exception of Swissair Group, which was looking to sell assets well before Sept. 11, has said it wants to sell assets.

Air France, 56% owned by the French state, said last week it will conduct a "detailed review" of its investments.

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