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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs     27  December 2010

AirAsia no plan to buy Virgin

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AirAsia Bhd group chief executive officer Datuk Seri Tony Fernandes denies any plan to buy a stake in British airline Virgin Atlantic as reported by the Sunday Times newspaper.

"There are no discussions taking place," he said from London yesterday.

Asked why there was such speculation, he replied: "I have no idea."

The Sunday Times said in an unsourced report yesterday that Fernandes, who runs Asia's largest budget carrier by fleet size, had renewed his interest in the UK airline after previously considering and deciding against a bid.

Any deal could be worth up to US$ 1billion, the newspaper said.

British billionaire Richard Branson has a 51 percent stake in the airline he founded in 1984. Singapore Airlines paid 600mil for a 49 percent stake in Virgin Atlantic in 2000.

Reuters reported that the UK airline said earlier this month it had received several "lines of enquiry" about tie-ups with rivals after it hired Deutsche Bank to assess the aviation market. It said the bank's review was expected to last for several months and did not name those interested in a possible tie-up.

Increased competition from low-cost airlines, weak demand and high fuel prices have combined to squeeze many carriers in recent years.

The low-margin industry has gone through a period of rapid consolidation and Reuters said analysts believed larger carriers such as Virgin Atlantic needed partners to stay ahead of the competition.

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