HNA Group said on Tuesday that it will "always prioritize passengers' rights and ensure their smooth trips," after a notice from one of its fuel suppliers showing the group had missed payments since October 2017 went viral on the internet, domestic news website thepaper.cn reported Tuesday.
In the formal notice, South China Bluesky Aviation Oil (SCBAO), a subsidiary of China National Aviation Fuel Group based in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province, demanded HNA Group pay all bills that had been overdue since October 2017 by 4 pm on March 16. It also sought a written guarantee that HNA would no longer delay payments.
"Otherwise, we will halt supplying fuel to the carrier from March 18," the notice said, stressing that the default "has severely affected its normal operations and threatened its fuel security."
"We have actively contacted HNA Group for payment via phone calls, on-site visits, collection letters and lawyer's letters, and we also filed a case to the China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission, but so far we still have not received the defaulted payments," the SCBAO notice continued.
In response, HNA said it would maintain the safety and stability of its operations. It also said it had been the target of "false allegations and slander" and would hold those who made the statements legally responsible.
On March 1, Reuters quoted sources close to the matter as saying that HNA owed about 3 billion yuan to China National Aviation Fuel Group. HNA responded at the time that its businesses were operating normally and "all payments are going forward as planned," said another thepaper.com report.
The aviation-to-financial services group has eight airlines including Hainan Airlines, China Xinhua Airlines and Fuzhou Airlines. The group's half-year financial statement showed that its fuel payments in the first half of 2017 totaled 324 million yuan ($51 million).
Industry analysts said that SCBAO's notice was just the latest incident in a series of events since HNA encountered a capital crunch months ago. In the past few months, the group has been selling overseas assets to cut debts and improve liquidity.
Separately, Reuters reported that HNA is seeking a public listing for Swiss airline caterer Gategroup to raise up to 350 million Swiss francs ($372.7 million). HNA acquired Gategroup in 2016 in a deal worth $1.5 billion.