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Avianca Brasil to cut fleet, avoid plane seizures for now -lawyer

(Adds Avianca Brasil statement)

By Marcelo Rochabrun

SAO PAULO, Jan 14 (Reuters) - Brazilian carrier Avianca Brasil will trim its fleet and return some leased planes to owners trying to repossess them, a lawyer for the airline said on Monday following a closed hearing in bankruptcy court.

The legal dispute, which arose after Avianca Brasil fell behind on lease payments for some of its planes, prompted lessors to sue to repossess their assets and threatens to gut the airline's fleet.

In a statement, Avianca Brasil confirmed earlier comments by its lawyer, who said the lessors had agreed to grant the airline 15 more days to fly the planes while negotiating delinquent payments.

"The company reinforces that it continues operating normally, with its landings and departures maintained according to previously established schedules," the airline said.

Without a deal, the airline would have faced the immediate seizure of 20 percent of its fleet, which is owned by lessor Aircastle Ltd, and could have lost more planes in the future. The deal, which includes several airplane lessors, came together at the last minute.

As of Friday the airline had not made any concrete proposals to keep the planes, a source with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.

Last week Avianca Brasil had a fleet of 46 planes, according to data from Brazilian aviation regulator ANAC. It is unclear how many planes it will voluntarily return as part of a fleet reduction plan.

Representatives for the airplane lessors declined to comment.

The airline filed for bankruptcy protection last month. Avianca Brasil is separate from the better-known Avianca Holdings SA, which is based in Colombia. But they share the same owner, a family company owned in part by Bolivian-born airline entrepreneur German Efromovich. (Reporting by Marcelo Rochabrun; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Grant McCool)