Former Qantas CFO leads bid for stake in airline

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Former Qantas Airways chief financial officer Peter Gregg is said to be leading a consortium, which includes the Australian flag carrier's former chief executive Geoff Dixon, that is looking into buying a strategic stake in the airline.

Apart from Gregg and Dixon, the consortium is said to include venture capitalist Mark Carnegie and Australian advertising executive John Singleton.

When contacted, Qantas says it is "often the subject of speculation and there has been takeover speculation for at least the past 12 months". It adds that it has received "no formal or informal approaches regarding a takeover".

The consortium is keen take the airline in a different direction from where it is headed under chief executive Alan Joyce if the deal goes ahead, according to the reports. Options include partially floating fully-owned low-cost carrier Jetstar and Qantas Frequent Flyer, the airline's loyalty programme. They would also moot working more closely with fellow Oneworld alliance member Cathay Pacific to build up the Asian network.

The consortium has held meetings with institutional shareholders and some unions about their options, which includes a stake that does not require them to launch a takeover bid, but would be enough to influence decisions at the Oneworld alliance member.

The Australian and International Pilots Association, which represents Qantas pilots, confirms that it has met with Gregg, but would not provide any details of the contents of the meeting. "There was a meeting and it was some time ago," says a spokesman for the union, adding that there has only been one such meeting.

Reports also claim that Gregg met fund manager Balanced Equity Management. The fund manager did not respond to calls from Flightglobal.

Gregg, the airline's chief financial officer from 2000 to 2008, was a leading candidate to replace Dixon. The job eventually went to Joyce, who was then Jetstar's chief executive, in 2008. Gregg left Qantas shortly before Joyce was appointed to the position and is now the chief financial officer at engineering and construction company Leighton Holdings.

Both Gregg and Dixon were heavily involved in the attempted takeover of Qantas in 2007 by the Airlines Partners Australia consortium, which failed to gain the support of the majority of shareholders.

Qantas says its management is focused on building a stronger airline, which it is doing through a proposed partnership with Emirates Airline, investing in new aircraft, growing Jetstar in Asia, maintaining a profit-maximising domestic market share of 65% and tackling its legacy cost base.

"This strategy is geared towards sustainable shareholder value, which it is already delivering through the recently-announced share buyback," adds Qantas.

After peaking at A$1.82 ($1.89) per share in March this year, Qantas's share price fell below $1 in June, but has more recently recovered to above $1.25.