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Eastar to cut half of workforce to woo new investor

All News 09:18 October 13, 2020

SEOUL, Oct. 13 (Yonhap) -- Eastar Jet Co. said Tuesday it will lay off more than half of its workforce this week as it strives to find a new investor after Jeju Air Co. scrapped its plan to acquire the smaller budget carrier amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Eastar plans to deliver pink slips to 605 of its 1,200 employees Wednesday before it begins the process of finding a new investor, Eastar Senior Vice President Kim You-sang said over the phone.

"Our lead managers and two private equity funds (that have an interest in investing in Eastar) want the company to reduce our fleet and workforce, among other things," he said.

The company plans to maintain 590 employees, including cabin crew, which is the bare minimum to fly six planes. The size of the remaining workforce also is in line with the company's air operator certificate.

In this file photo, taken Sept. 3, 2020, a group of civic activists call on Eastar Jet to nix its plan to reduce its workforce near the National Assembly in Seoul following Jeju Air's recent decision to scrap its planned takeover of Eastar. (Yonhap)

Eastar currently has 18 planes, including two 737 MAX aircraft, and had 1,680 employees as of March.

In August, Eastar selected a group of lead managers to resume a bid to sell a controlling stake of 51.17 percent.

The company is looking for a strategic investor, or a company, that has an interest in the majority stake in Eastar, the executive said.

Four strategic investors reportedly have shown an interest in making an investment in Eastar.

Eastar, which has suspended all flights since March, faces bankruptcy after Jeju Air scrapped the deal in late July due to the COVID-19 pandemic's growing impact on the airline industry.

In March, Jeju Air signed a deal to acquire the controlling stake in Eastar Jet from Eastar Holdings for 54.5 billion won (US$45.53 million) as part of its expansion strategy despite the pandemic.

On July 1, Jeju Air sent an ultimatum demanding Eastar Jet pay off all of its debts, estimated at up to 170 billion won, including unpaid wages to its employees, delayed payments to subcontractors and office operating expenses, by July 15.

But Eastar failed to meet the demands. The company said the debt payment was not part of the deal and that it was not Eastar's duty to do so but Jeju Air's.

On July 23, the state-run Korea Development Bank (KDB) and the Export-Import Bank of Korea said they will withdraw their plan to extend loans worth 170 billion won to Jeju Air following the deal's collapse.

This file photo, taken July 1, 2020, shows Jeju Air and Eastar Jet planes at Incheon International Airport, west of Seoul. (Yonhap)

kyongae.choi@yna.co.kr
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