Brazilian airline Gol probes rival’s effort to poach aircraft

By Thomson Reuters Feb 12, 2024 | 2:26 PM

By Dietrich Knauth

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Bankrupt Brazilian airline Gol on Monday received a U.S. court’s permission to probe rival LATAM Airlines’ alleged effort to poach Gol’s Boeing 737 aircraft.

Gol has accused Chile-based LATAM of taking advantage of Gol’s bankruptcy by trying to poach its aircraft, hire away its pilots, and discourage travel agents from booking customers’ flights with Gol.

At a court hearing in Manhattan, Gol attorney Andrew Leblanc told U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Martin Glenn that the company needs to investigate whether LATAM’s tactics violated U.S. bankruptcy law.

“We feel like we’re under attack from a competitor in our market, a very concerted attack,” Leblanc said.

Glenn ordered LATAM to provide documents to Gol and make three of its executives available for interviews with Gol’s lawyers, to explain its recent effort to acquire more aircraft from companies that currently lease their planes to Gol.

The judge said it was “preposterous” to believe that it was purely a coincidence that LATAM began its outreach the day after Gol’s bankruptcy filing.

LATAM attorney Kyle Ortiz acknowledged that a Jan. 26 letter sent to aircraft owners was “not purely a coincidence,” and was the first time in recent years that LATAM has tried to acquire Boeing 737 and 737 Max aircraft. But he said the company was not solely motivated by Gol’s bankruptcy, and was simply trying to source planes from large companies that lease aircraft to Gol, LATAM and other airlines.

“We need airplanes,” Ortiz said. “If we’re looking for 737s, that’s where we have to go.”

Glenn did not approve Gol’s request to investigate a recent LATAM job posting seeking Boeing-qualified pilots in Brazil, saying that there was no evidence that LATAM specifically reached out to Gol’s pilots.

Gol’s attorney said the company may return to court later seeking to probe LATAM’s communications with travel agents, but he did not ask Glenn to authorize a formal investigation on Monday.

Gol filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the United States on Jan. 25.

Gol said it has struggled with the COVID pandemic’s lingering impact and had difficulty sourcing sufficient Boeing 737 Max aircraft to meet a surge in post-pandemic demand.

Boeing’s production of the aircraft has been hampered by a series of crises in recent years, including a 2020 production pause that followed two fatal crashes and a recent in-flight malfunction in which a side panel blew off of a passenger plane.

(Reporting by Dietrich Knauth in New York, additional reporting by Kylie Madry and Andre Romani, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Bill Berkrot)