Andrzej Jeziorski/SINGAPORE

Bangkok has abandoned the sale of a 10% stake in Thai Airways International to a foreign partner in its privatisation plan, according to the local press.

Thai says it will not comment on the reports until after its next board meeting on 2 March, but airline vice-chairman and permanent finance secretary Somchainuk Engtrakul has said that a foreign partner is unnecessary.

"All prospective airline investors are rivals. Thai Airways should sell its shares to non-competitors, or to other businesses," he says. Newly appointed finance minister Somkid Chatusiripitak is reported to favour a non-airline partner.

Thai's Star Alliance partner Lufthansa, to which it has just moved closer with a deal to include cost- and profit-sharing on Thailand-Germany routes from June, has said it wants to keep any stake in the hands of the alliance, and in December confirmed that it would be the sole Star bidder, addressing concerns that Thai's arch-rival Singapore Airlines might bid.

Qantas and Air France, members of the oneworld and SkyTeam alliances, respectively, are among non-Star carriers interested in the privatisation, believing Star's strategy of retaining twin Southeast Asian hubs in Bangkok and Singapore to be unsustainable, leaving Thai open to external suitors.

Thai's chairman Srisook Chandrangsu says it still wants a strategic partner, but that "it is not necessary to sell shares only to an airline".

Recently elected prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra has told local press he wants to "review" Thai's share diversification, which is due to expand its capital from 1.4 billion-1.7 billion baht ($32.7-$40 million) via the issue of 300 million new shares.

The plan would also see the finance ministry, which owns 93% of Thai, sell 100 million shares, reducing its holding to 70%, with 10% then offered to a foreign partner and the rest floated. Only 7% of the airline is currently traded.

Source: Flight International