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New TAP Air Portugal owners vow expansion in US, Brazil, and more passengers to Europe

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LISBON, Portugal — TAP Air Portugal's new owners said Wednesday they intend to expand operations to 10 more U.S. destinations and eight more in Brazil, while bringing more passengers from those countries into Europe.

David Neeleman, whose Gateway consortium is paying 354 million euros ($397 million) for a 61 percent stake in the flag carrier, said at the formal signing ceremony he intends to inject fresh capital into the airline, which has debts of more than 1 billion euros. The deal's value could rise to 488 million euros depending on TAP's 2015 performance.

The new owners, who this month won the bidding to buy TAP, also plan to renew TAP's aging fleet of aircraft.

Neeleman founded the JetBlue airline in the United States and is the CEO of Brazil's Azul carrier, which flies to Florida. He holds U.S.-Brazilian citizenship and is partnering with Portuguese bus company owner Humberto Pedrosa in the consortium.

Regulators' endorsement of the sale could take months.

The sale survived several years of legal challenges, labor strikes and one failed attempt to sell in 2012 when the sole bidder failed to provide required financial guarantees.

The government has set aside 5 percent of the company to sell to employees.

Some analysts say the company's 7,500-strong payroll is bloated after seven decades of government management, but the government negotiated a deal with most of the company's trade unions whereby the new owners won't be able to make mass layoffs for at least two-and-a-half years after taking control.

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