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Amid merger speculation, Brazilian airline Gol parent talks with Azul

Gol aircraft is seen at Brasilia International Airport

SAO PAULO (Reuters) -The parent company of Brazilian airline Gol has started talks with rival Azul to "explore opportunities," both airlines said on Monday, following media reports earlier this year that pointed to a potential merger.

Azul added in a securities filing it has not signed or formalized any new agreement regarding a potential business combination with Gol, which is controlled by Latin American airline holding company Abra Group.

Abra Group was formed in 2022 to combine Gol and Colombia's Avianca under a common holding company jointly controlled by the main shareholders of both firms.

Last week, Gol and Azul announced a codeshare agreement connecting their networks and frequent flyer programs, a move that reignited speculation about a potential merger between the Brazilian airlines.

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Gol filed for bankruptcy protection in the United States earlier this year, after struggling with heavy debt and delayed deliveries from planemaker Boeing. Abra Group is Gol's largest secured creditor.

A possible agreement between Abra Group and Azul "would not be binding for Gol," the airline said in a securities filing on Monday without going into further detail.

In its securities filing, Azul said it was holding "independent talks" with Abra.

On Monday, Gol said it would hold a competitive process starting in June to evaluate proposals to finance its exit from bankruptcy proceedings, including "opportunities presented by potential sources of equity and debt capital."

Gol and Azul are Brazil's second and third largest airlines, respectively, by a common gauge of passenger traffic used by the South American country's aviation regulator ANAC. Chile's LATAM is currently the market leader in Brazil.

(Reporting by Andre Romani; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Cynthia Osterman)