Several international operators have expressed interest in the privatization of Portuguese airline TAP, its chief executive Fernando Pinto said on Tuesday, attracted by its fast-growing routes to South America and Africa.

I cannot give names but what I can say is that the privatization is generating great interest, Pinto told journalists.

Portugal's government has promised to privatize TAP, possibly this year, under the terms of a 78 billion euro ($102 billion) European Union/International Monetary Fund bailout.

International Airlines Group (IAG) , formed by the merger of British Airways and Iberia, said in October it would look at TAP when the Portuguese government starts the formal sale process, its Brazilian routes being of particular interest.

Besides IAG, others have shared with us their interest but, because they did so unofficially, we cannot name them, the TAP CEO said.

The main interest is the Lisbon hub, it was thanks to this geographical position that TAP has achieved everything.

TAP's slots at Lisbon airport provides access to Africa and both North and South America and have allowed the company, which covers around 75 routes in 34 countries, to become the leader in air travel between Europe and Brazil.

Pinto added that it will be up to the Portuguese government to decide if it wants to privatise the whole company or just part of it.

In 2011, TAP reported 3 million euros in net profit and revenue of 2.3 billion euros.

The airline's privatization follows the sale by the Portuguese state of stakes in utility EDP and grid operator REN to Chinese and Oman investors, both incorporating high premiums in comparison to market prices. ($1 = 0.7656 euros)

(Writing by Axel Bugge and Daniel Alvarenga; Editing by Erica Billingham)