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The deed has been done. As of 17.40 today, Zhengzhou time, or 10.40am CET, Henan Civil Aviation & Investment Co (HCNA) is officially a 35% shareholder in Cargolux, having bought the Luxembourg government’s stake for $231m.

The signing ceremony was attended by HNCA officials as well as Luxembourg infrastructure minister François Bausch and Cargolux’s chairman Paul Helminger, interim CEO Richard Forson and Robert van de Weg, senior vp sales and marketing.

According to the terms of the commercial agreement – little changed since the well-publicised December 10 draft, according to one source – Cargolux must apply for traffic rights in Zhengzhou before Tuesday next week and open an office there before mid-April.

It is thought that the first flight will be operated at the end of March or early April.

Vocal opposition from the OGBL, however, continued right up until the last minute, with the union yesterday issuing a statement warning of potentially “disastrous” consequences.

It said: “Cargolux is obliged to serve the interests of HNCA and Henan Province without apparent consideration for the airport in Luxembourg and its European hub. Entering the Chinese market could have short-term positive effects, but it appears that it has come at the expense of a strategic long-term approach, at least for Cargolux…

“Cargolux employees may ultimately lose their jobs in Luxembourg once the Chinese partners have received the know-how or the personnel and equipment through joint-ventures, which would allow them to compete with Cargolux…

“However… OGBL can only make [the parties] aware of the potential disastrous consequences that the signing of the trade agreement with HNCA could have for Cargolux and, more generally, for the whole country.”

Cargolux’s other union, LCGB, has been peculiarly quiet on the HNCA deal, and wasn’t available for comment when contacted by The Loadstar.

So the deal may be done, but there remain many questions over how Cargolux will keep to the terms of the agreement, which require it to start four rotations per week to Zhengzhou. It has yet to be decided which current routes will be stopped to make way for the new ones.

One source said: “We have a very flexible network and we don’t generally plan three months ahead, so I’d be very surprised if those decisions had been made yet.”

Also to be decided is the new CEO. The board had hoped to make an announcement before the end of this month, but this now seems unlikely. It is thought there will be internal and external applicants and Mr Forson will return to his permanent role as CFO.

Despite the changes to come at Cargolux, some staff will be relieved that the speculation surrounding the HNCA deal is over.

“Time will tell how it all works out,” said one insider. “There was so much optimism before the Qatar deal, and that didn’t work out well. Maybe, after all this opposition, this will be better.

“The critics are still around, and still vocal, but it has been very political here for quite a long time – and it distracts from productivity.”

Luxair, which is selling an 8.41% stake in Cargolux to the Luxembourg government, will continue to own a 35.01% stake, giving it four board members, while HNCA will get three.

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