Portugal's TAP starts to restore flights to London, Paris

By Catarina Demony

LISBON, May 7 (Reuters) - Portugal's flag carrier TAP resumed some of its international operations on Thursday with a flight to London as lockdown measures imposed to combat the spread of the coronavirus are slowly being lifted in the tourism-dependent country.

A flight to London Heathrow took off at around 3 p.m. (1400 GMT) according to the Lisbon airport departures webpage, and the British airport listed it as due to land at 1645 GMT.

There is another flight from Lisbon to Heathrow scheduled for Sunday, according to TAP's website that also showed a scheduled flight to Sao Paulo in Brazil on May 14.

TAP is expected to operate a flight from Lisbon to Paris on Friday morning, the Lisbon airport website showed.

A plan shared on TAP's website on May 5 but later deleted had revealed flights from Lisbon to London and Paris would take place twice a week until the end of May.

TAP, which usually operates around 2,500 flights per week, did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.

In March, the airline said that from April 1 to at least May 4 it would only use its fleet to repatriate citizens, transport medical supplies and operate flights to the Portuguese islands of Azores and Madeira.

All other flights were suspended.

Last week, TAP's board of directors decided to extend a temporary layoff of around 90% of the airline's employees, announced in March, until May 31.

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With some of the routes restarting this week it is not clear how many employees will return to work and when.

Last month TAP asked for a state-backed loan to aid the survival of the company, which is at its most fragile since it was founded, according to Chairman Miguel Frasquilho.

The airline was partly privatised in 2015. Brazilian-U.S. airline entrepreneur David Neeleman holds a 45% stake, and the state 50%, with TAP employees holding the remaining 5%.

TAP ended last year with its best ever cash position despite a net annual loss of 106 million euros ($114 million), but it has incurred heavy losses in recent months as demand for travel collapsed.

Story continues

Both Prime Minister Antonio Costa and Finance Minister Mario Centeno raised the possibility of re-nationalising the flag carrier, with Costa deeming the company as essential to the country.

Portugal has reported 26,182 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus and 1,089 deaths, a small fraction of neighbouring Spain's toll.

The country this week embarked on a three-phase plan to open up different sectors of the economy every 15 days starting with hairdressers, small neighbourhood shops, car dealerships and bookshops from Monday. ($1 = 0.9264 euros) (Reporting by Catarina Demony Editing by Andrei Khalip and Keith Weir)

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