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Virgin Australia sells stake to Singapore, pounces on Tiger

30 october 2012, 14:50
0
Virgin Chairman Sir Richard Branson. ©REUTERS
Virgin Chairman Sir Richard Branson. ©REUTERS
Virgin Australia on Tuesday sold 10 percent of its business to Singapore Airlines while agreeing to buy a 60 percent stake in Tiger Airways Australia as it upped the ante in its battle with Qantas, AFP reports.

In a slew of announcements, the country's second-biggest airline after the Flying Kangaroo also said it was making a Aus$98.7 million (US$101.9 million) takeover offer for Perth-based Australian regional carrier Skywest.

Virgin agreed to pay Aus$35 million (US$36 million) for its holding in Tiger, the loss-making subsidiary of Singapore's Tiger Airways, while Singapore Airlines bought its stake for Aus$105 million.

"The transactions overall represent a monumental shift for Virgin Australia which, if approved, will see a more even playing field in Australian aviation," Macquarie analysts said in a note.

"They arguably create a replica of Qantas."

Virgin chief executive John Borghetti said the deals were designed to accelerate the airline's growth and increase competition in Australia, where the domestic market has long been dominated by Qantas.

The acquisitions of Tiger and Skywest would boost Virgin's presence in the budget and regional markets, "enabling us to fast-track our expansion in these areas and become a stronger competitor".

"These transactions will bring important benefits to Australia, driving growth in jobs, tourism and competition," said Borghetti, adding that he planned to make the carrier Australia's "airline of choice in all markets".

If the Tiger and Skywest deals receive regulatory and shareholder approvals, Virgin will expand its fleet to 139 aircraft and employ more than 9,000 workers.

Australia has a lucrative domestic market and global airlines have been deepening ties with local carriers to access it.

Last month, Qantas and Emirates announced a major global alliance which opens up Qantas's domestic network of more than 50 destinations and nearly 5,000 flights per week to the Dubai-based airline.

Singapore Airlines is a key international competitor to Qantas and CEO Goh Choon Phong said his company taking a stake in Virgin showed "our shared commitment to an alliance that provides a wide range of consumer benefits".

"Singapore Airlines fully supports the ongoing transformation of Virgin Australia, which has already resulted in a more competitive aviation market in Australia," he added.

The Singaporean airline, which paid 42.88 cents a share for an issue of 245.6 million stock, a 6.8 percent discount to the last trading price, joins Etihad which also has a 10 percent stake in Virgin.

Richard Branson's Virgin Group and Air New Zealand are other major equity holders.

Borghetti described Singapore Airlines as "an important strategic alliance partner".

"We are very pleased to have their support as an investor," he said.

In the Skywest deal, Virgin made a cash and scrip offer for the airline that operates in regional Australia and Southeast Asia.

Skywest executive chairman Jeff Chatfield said the offer represented a substantial premium to the current share price.

"Based on our advice it is likely that this proposal will take some months to fully play out," he said in a statement.

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