Thai Airways International is moving forward with long-delayed plans for a partial privatisation with the appointment of another adviser, and the approval from shareholders to increase the maximum stake foreign investors can hold.

The carrier's board of directors has appointed the Roland Berger consultancy to assist with the planned privatisation. Thai last year hired a group led by Credit Suisse First Boston to help, while in July this year it hired legal firm Baker & McKenzie and accountants KPMG.

Thailand's government has been promising to sell 23% of the 93% state-owned carrier for more than two years but has repeatedly deferred firm action.

Under a plan approved by the country's cabinet earlier this year, the sale is to include 8% to the public, 5% to employees and 10% to a strategic partner or partners. The planned privatisation has been closely watched by all major alliance groupings, in part because Thai's Bangkok base is a major regional hub.

Thai is a founding member of the Star Alliance and fellow members have indicated that they will bid for a stake to keep the carrier in the grouping.

Ahead of a promised sale to a strategic partner, shareholders in Thai have agreed to increase the maximum stake foreign investors can hold to 30% from 10%.

The move was approved at an extraordinary shareholders' meeting late in October.

Also approved was a plan for 200 million unissued shares to be cancelled and 300 million new shares issued instead. This move is expected to lift the carrier's capital base to 17 billion baht ($400 million) from its present 14 billion baht.

Of the 300 million new shares, a 42.5% minority will be available for a strategic partner, while another 52.5% are to be offered to the public with the remaining 5% reserved for employees. Some shares held by the Ministry of Finance are to be included in the portion sold through a private placement.

Source: Airline Business