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Malaysia's AirAsia mulls going private as industry slows

 
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October 5, 2008

Malaysia's AirAsia mulls going private as industry slows
AirAsia, the region's largest low-cost carrier, said Saturday it is exploring "various options", following a newspaper report that it may soon be privatised.

"We have continuously been exploring various options at both shareholders and company level," Kamarudin Meranum, group deputy chief executive officer told AFP.

"There is nothing to confirm at the moment," he said in response to the report in business newspaper The Edge.

"(AirAsia) has generated a lot of interest but there has always been scepticism about its business model from investors looking at short term returns," the weekly cited an unnamed source as saying.

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Kamarudin said the management was focused on ensuring the carrier, a listed company, remained profitable during challenging times.

"We are the controlling shareholders. We still feel the company has a lot of potential. We are a fairly young carrier," he said.

AirAsia had room to expand and was concentrating on building an infrastructure to ensure growth and profit, he added.

But Kamarudin said since AirAsia was listed, "we must be cautious of any statements we make in relation to any development within the company".

AirAsia's controlling shareholder is Tune Air Sdn Bhd, which held 30.7 percent of its shares as at end-March this year.

Tune Air's shareholders are AirAsia chief executive officer Tony Fernandes and Kamarudin himself.

Global airlines are expected to post a combined loss of 5.2 billion dollars in 2008 on a "toxic" combination of high oil prices and falling demand, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) warned last month.

Passenger load factors -- the ratio of arriving and departing passengers to arriving and departing seats -- fell to 79.2 percent from the 81 percent recorded over the same period last year as capacity growth outpaced demand, it said.

Since beginning of the year, AirAsia shares have lost 23 percent while the Kuala Lumpur Composite Index shed 30 percent.

AirAsia said in August its net profits plummeted 95 percent in the second quarter compared to a year ago, blaming high fuel costs and foreign exchange losses.

The company, launched in December 2001 with just two aircraft, has become the region's biggest low-cost carrier and been imitated by national carriers and other low-fare start-ups.

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