GE Offers to Sell Aviation Service

In a sharp reversal, General Electric Co. has offered to sell a stake in one of its most-prized units to win European Union antitrust clearance for its $41 billion purchase of Honeywell International Inc., a source close to the deal said Thursday.

The last-ditch offer would have GE sell a 19.9 percent minority stake in its aircraft-financing unit, GE Capital Aviation Services, to large financial institutions, but not to the public, the source said on condition of anonymity.

GE's remaining 80.1 percent would ensure that GE would continue to benefit from the tax grouping of GE and GECAS, the source said.

EU antitrust officials had expressed concern that GECAS, one of the world's top purchasers of aircraft, would promote GE-Honeywell equipment to the detriment of competitors. They had pushed GE to sell shares in GECAS to independent investors to ensure greater discipline on GE without threatening its control of the unit.

In its June 14 ``final offer,'' GE proposed introducing separate management for GECAS, but refused to consider selling a minority share.

GE spokesman Gary Sheffer said Wednesday the company's outside advisers have had informal discussions with European Commission staff. He would not comment on details of the talks, but said the options under discussion are within the financial parameters of the June 14 proposal.

Competition Commissioner Mario Monti was to meet with GE representatives Thursday to evaluate the new offer, the source said.

Monti's spokeswoman, Amelia Torres, declined to comment.

The Commission was expected to make its final decision on the deal at its meeting next Tuesday, but the new effort to address the EU's antitrust concerns could result in a postponement. The legal deadline for a decision is July 12.