Scandinavia’s biggest airline, SAS, has just filed for bankruptcy protection

Jul 5, 2022

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Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) has filed for bankruptcy protection, the latest development to roil the European aviation sector that’s already been hit by staffing issues and a series of strikes.

The filing at SAS coincides with its pilot strikes over pay and working conditions, which are expected to ground around half of the airline’s flight operations at various points this month.

In anticipation of heavy losses, the Nordic region’s biggest carrier said it has taken the option of Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the U.S. to “accelerate” restructuring plans.

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SAS has vowed to continue operations through the Chapter 11 restructuring process, which is common.

The pilot strike has caused a major operational disruption. By 4:15 p.m. in Stockholm on Tuesday, 236 of the airline’s flights had been canceled for today — 78% of its schedule, according to FlightAware.

Plans for SAS to file for bankruptcy had already been in the works following economic hardships post-pandemic. However, the airline’s current strike strife forced bosses to act sooner, they said.

“We are confident that this process will enable us to become a stronger and even better airline for our customers, and a much healthier business partner in the years to come,” said SAS CEO Anko van der Werff following the announcement.

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“The date [of filing for bankruptcy] has been brought forward because the company now needs to be prepared against further liquidity loss,” Anko said.

So what does this mean in layman’s terms?

Known as “reorganization” bankruptcy, Chapter 11 bankruptcy is a way for companies already in the red or facing major losses to restructure operations. The goal is to find a way out of their current financial situation without shutting down the day-to-day business.

All three of the largest U.S. airlines have operated through Chapter 11 restructurings in the 2000s. Each continued to operate relatively normally during the process.

More recently, Aeromexico, Avianca and LATAM are among carriers that have sought Chapter 11 protections as the COVID-19 pandemic delivered a financial blow to the industry.

airplane wing
(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

SAS’s own route through the courts could well involve liquidating assets to repay creditors or downsizing operations as the case moves forward. It’s a costly and complex procedure, and, according to SAS officials, could take nine to 12 months to fully process.

However, by restructuring now, the airline buys itself time to ensure staff and passengers are kept in the skies throughout the hectic summer season and into 2023. This may provide some comfort to the thousands of passengers currently on tenterhooks.

Related: EasyJet’s operations boss resigns amid flight cancellation chaos

“Through this process, SAS aims to reach agreements with key stakeholders, restructure the company’s debt obligations, reconfigure its aircraft fleet, and emerge with a significant capital injection,” the airline said in a statement.

SAS, which is part-owned by the governments of Sweden and Denmark by up to as much as 30%, plans to convert 20 billion Swedish krona ($1.89 billion) of debt into shares with a goal of raising around $995 million in equity.

That target might be easier said than done, with SAS shares taking a nosedive by as much as 13% since the news broke.

Inside cabin of SAS flight
(Photo by Ben Smithson/The Points Guy)

If strikes continue, that value could depreciate even further. According to industry insiders, more strike action could cost around 100 million Swedish krona per day, equating to roughly $9.5 million on top of existing losses.

As it stands, SAS faces record disruption this month after talks broke down with the pilots’ unions. Around 900 pilots will be withdrawn across Scandinavian and international flights, which is set to affect over 30,000 passengers per day.

SAS bosses, who have branded the strike action as “reckless,” have said if customers cannot get onto alternative flights, they can apply for a refund or rebook at a later date, even seeking reimbursement from the airline for costs for an alternative means of travel.

At the end of last month, Unite, the U.K.’s biggest trade union, averted strike action after securing a “game-changing” pay rise for SAS crew employed by CAE Crewing Services Ltd – an incremental 18% wage hike by March 2023.

Featured photo by Getty Images.

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