"Perhaps the biggest challenge is low-cost airlines," Neeleman said at a meeting with TAP employees at the company's Lisbon headquarters. "I went through Oporto the other day and was scared at the eight Ryanair planes and another four EasyJet ones. We have to become more competitive."

According to Neeleman, the plan is to carve out segments, with a €39 tariff with which the passenger must pay to stow luggage in the hold, as with Ryanair, but with five flights a day instead of Ryanair's one.

"That way TAP serves everyone: those who want to pay little and those who don't mind paying more, because they prefer to travel in better conditions," he said.

The secret to compete with the likes of Ryanair is to be more flexible and highlight TAP's culture of service.

State holding company Parpública announced on Thursday that it had signed the accord to complete the direct sale of 61% of TAP shares to the Gateway consortium, which is a joint venture in which Pedrosa, who is chairman of Portugal's largest coach operator, has a 51% stake. Neeleman, the founder of Brazilian airline Azul, is seen as likely to have at least as much clout, however having more relevant industry experience.

During the meeting with TAP employees, Neeleman announced the order from Airbus, as previously promised, of 53 wide-bodied, single-aisle planes, made up of 14 A330s and 39 A320s. The order substitutes an earlier one by TAP for 12 A350s.