Air China is working to become the third Chinese carrier listed abroad as sweeping airline consolidation continues in the country.

The Beijing-based flag carrier says it is seeking stock exchange listings in Hong Kong and New York as early as the first half of 2002 to raise cash for expansion. Most analysts expect a listing in 2003, however, in part because government-ordered mergers among major airlines are not expected to be completed for at least 18 months.

Last year, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) ordered the 10 airlines under its direct "control and administration" to merge into three groups. Air China will acquire China Southwest Airlines and China National Aviation Company (CNAC), which controls Zhejiang Airlines and Air Macau. CNAC's Hong Kong-listed unit has the biggest single stake in Dragonair and joint ventures at Hong Kong International Airport.

Air China has been considering an international share offering since 1997 but delayed its plans during the Asia-Pacific economic downturn, which put the carrier into the red between 1997 and 1999.

The other two members of China's "big three" club, Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines and Guangzhou-based China Southern Airlines, are already listed in Hong Kong and New York.

Those carriers are also expanding as part of an industry restructure. China Eastern has already acquired Great Wall Airlines and is to take over China Northwest Airlines and Yunnan Airlines. China Southern Airlines is to take over China Northern Airlines and Xinjiang Airlines.

Source: Airline Business