A TAP Air Portugal Airbus A310 lands in Lisbon at...

A TAP Air Portugal Airbus A310 lands in Lisbon at sunrise, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023. Portugal's government is expected to announce Thursday that it is having another stab at privatizing flag carrier TAP Air Portugal. Credit: AP/Armando Franca

LISBON, Portugal — Portugal plans to privatize flag carrier TAP Air Portugal next year, the government announced Thursday, after the airline returned to profit following a 3.2-billion-euro ($3.4 billion) taxpayer-funded restructuring program.

The goal is to sell at least 51% of the company, Finance Minister Fernando Medina said after a Cabinet meeting.

Medina didn't put a price on the company. But he told a news conference that other factors would also carry weight in the decision about who to sell the company to, such as keeping the airline's hub in the Portuguese capital, Lisbon, and investing in staff and expansion.

The government will make more details available within a few months, Medina said.

TAP, one of Europe’s smaller national airlines, carried almost 14 million passengers last year. That was a company record and is forecast to be surpassed this year.

It also made money in 2022, posting a profit of 65.6 million euros ($69 million) on revenue of 3.5 billion euros ($3.7 billion), after four years of losses, according to company financial reports.

TAP has more than 11,000 staff and more than 90 aircraft flying to more than 80 destinations, mostly in Europe but also in North and South America, especially Brazil and the United States, and Africa.

A TAP Air Portugal Airbus A320 takes off from Lisbon...

A TAP Air Portugal Airbus A320 takes off from Lisbon at sunrise, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2023. Portugal's government is expected to announce Thursday that it is having another stab at privatizing flag carrier TAP Air Portugal. Credit: AP/Armando Franca

Airline analysts say the most likely bidders are Lufthansa, Air France-KLM and International Airlines Group, which combines Spain’s Iberia and British Airways among others.

Two previous attempts to privatize TAP went awry amid financial difficulties and interminable political squabbling over the carrier. Conflicts with trade unions also have dogged the company.

Eight years ago, a newly elected Socialist government undid a privatization three months after it took place under a previous administration, demanding that the buyer sell a majority stake back to the state.

In 1998, Swissair bought 34% of TAP but the agreement to buy a bigger stake in the company fell apart three years later when the Swiss flag carrier went bankrupt.

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