BUENOS AIRES – Mariano Recalde on Thursday took over as president of Argentina’s two government-owned airlines, Aerolineas Argentinas and Austral Lineas Aereas, and defended the July 2008 nationalization.

“There are some who want Aerolineas Argentinas to do badly,” Recalde said in a statement, referring to recent press reports which raised several issues about the airlines, including punctuality.

Between January and June, flights were on time 77% of the time, an improvement from the 38% figure in July 2008, Recalde said.

“This type of information hurts the business of the airlines Aerolineas Argentinas and Austral Lineas Aereas, because they discourage sales of tickets, which is essential to the financial and economic recovery of the companies and the public service they provide,” Recalde said.

The government expropriated the airlines from Spain’s Grupo Marsans SA, saying it had failed to deliver on its service promises. The government and Marsans are still arguing over terms of the takeover.

Recalde said the airlines’ operating deficit has fallen by two-thirds over the last year.

On Wednesday, local newspaper Clarin reported that the government was subsidizing Aerolineas to the tune of $1.5 million per day.

Aerolineas didn’t respond to a request for comment.

President Cristina Fernandez appointed Recalde after moving the previous head of the company, Julio Alak, to the Justice Ministry, as part of a broader cabinet in the wake of June 28 midterm Congressional losses.

Recalde, 37 years old, is the son of Representative Hector Recalde, of the ruling Front for Victory party. He trained as a lawyer and most recently worked with a number of labor unions, and is seen as being closely associated with Hugo Moyano, leader of Argentina’s powerful General Confederation of Labor, or CGT.

The airlines’ board of directors has four government representatives: Recalde, vice president Juan de Dios Cingunegui, Eduardo De Pedro and Gustavo Simeonoff. There are two employee representatives on the board: Jorge Mateos and Javier Acosta.

Aerolineas recently unveiled plans to renew its fleet of aircraft, including aircraft from manufacturers Airbus, part of aerospace giant European Aeronautic Defence and Space Co. NV (EAD.FR), the U.S.’s Boeing Co.’s (BA) and Brazil’s Embraer-Empresa Brasileiras de Aeronautica SA (ERJ).

In June, the company received two Boeing 737/700s, the first new airplanes it has bought in 16 years. Another nine leased aircraft are scheduled to be delivered by the end of the year.

The government also signed a deal with Airbus to buy between 15 and 20 new A330 and A340 aircraft for long-haul travel, taking over part of a contract originally signed with Spain’s Marsans.

And Austral, which focuses on the domestic market, in May bought 20 aircraft from Embraer, which will be delivered at a rate of two a month starting in early 2010. The aircraft cost $600 million, of which 85% is being financed by Brazil’s National Development Bank, or BNDES.