What if TAP does not take off?

No serious debate about TAP can start from a board tilted to one side, undermined by two premises that involve an extraordinary financial sacrifice for the State, with no guarantee of return or success.

Days after the Chairman of the Board of Directors of TAP went to Parliament to explain that the “Portuguese adore her”, the only reason, by the way, why they dare to criticize her, an opinion study commissioned by the Commercial Association of Porto (ACP) indicates that more half (55%) of the respondents agree with the precautionary measure brought by the ACP that aims to suspend the State loan to the Carrier that can reach 1.200 million euros.

That TAP's Management is deeply mistaken with the Portuguese people's “love” for the company cannot be new, just looking at recent scandals such as the reduction of Porto and the North to a second regional stop, the workers' concerns, the processes of collective dismissal, complaints of service degradation or the distribution of premiums in years of loss, and with negative equity amounting to 600 million euros, roughly half of which will now be withdrawn from public coffers.

Because we are in Portugal, the fact that it is a “loan” does not bode well, as recent history has shown. The State is, in fact, a very bad debtor, but, on the other hand, it has been showing, at least from the perspective of those who receive public money, an excellent creditor, fulfilling with excessive zeal the contractual obligations it assumes with private companies, mainly if they are banks.

In the case of TAP, the situation becomes even more ridiculous, as the company's CEO has already clarified that, “obviously”, TAP will not meet the loan repayment term imposed by Brussels, which will necessarily imply the presentation of a restructuring plan for the company that will result in the resizing of the operation, with consequent redundancies.

To make it crystal clear, taxpayers will be asked to “lend” 1.200 million euros to TAP to, in six months, stay with a smaller airline, with fewer planes, fewer flights and fewer workers.

What the opinion study commissioned by ACP has been demonstrating, contrary to the edilic vision of TAP and some parliamentarians and members of the Government, is that the discussion around aid to the Transport Company is from the first minute tainted by a basic ideological problem that it is simplified in two premises: 1) the State (that is, the People) needs a flag carrier and 2) TAP cannot insolvency.

This can only lead to one conclusion: if the State needs TAP and TAP cannot go bankrupt, the State must assist TAP. However, none of the premises is mandatory or necessary, as evidenced by the cases of Belgium and Switzerland, which left their state-owned airlines (Sabena and Swissair) without bankruptcy, with no record of having been unable to arrive or fly by plane in those countries. Swisswings and, in the Covid-19 era, Flybe, also followed the same route.

It should be noted that we all want a historic company like TAP, which has already played an extremely relevant role for the country, to remain alive (and, we would add, public) and at the service of national, internal and external interests. But what the Portuguese explained now is that this cannot happen at any price, being 1.200 million too much!

As a crisis of unknown proportions approaches, the allocation of public funds has to be decided with special parsimony, and the demands of other sectors (health, education, railways, justice, etc.) for similar investments are totally fair.

In addition, and because, we must not forget, we are in Portugal, the 1.200 million will only be the first installment and the first chapter of what will become, it is anticipated, a long and exhausting process that, if on the one hand, can not even avoiding the bankruptcy of TAP (or reducing it until it is unrecognizable), on the other hand, it will certainly end up in any Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry scalping the mysterious allocation of public money.

If there is a lesson to be drawn from this apparent love-hate to TAP, it is that no serious debate can start from a board tilted to one side, hampered by two premises that, in addition to excluding a range of other paths, involve an extraordinary financial sacrifice for the State, without guarantee of return or success. The next six months will be crucial, and should be used for an uncompromising and practical national discussion about TAP's role and future, preventing the company from taking off so that, like Icarus with its wax wings, it falls to the ground.

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