Chris Jasper/SYDNEY


The sale of a stake in Thai Airways International to an airline investor is to take place next April, with a holding of around 15% to be sold off, the carrier's president, Thamnoon Wanglee, has revealed.

Thai's planned privatisation has suffered a series of delays and the April date represents further slippage. The involvement of an equity partner will be preceded by a public offering, to be made in early December, Thamnoon says.

Credit Suisse First Boston is advising Thai and is working on a new medium-term business plan, in conjunction with airline managers and government officials.

The plan is to be presented for approval in July, after which the tentative privatisation schedule will be finalised.

Around 7% of Thai is held privately, following an initial public offering several years ago. December's secondary offering will see a further 7% sold off, says Thamnoon, who was speaking following a meeting of Star Alliance chief executives in Sydney, Australia.

With the Government initially holding a minimum of 70% of the carrier, an airline investor could only hold a maximum of 16%.

Given Thai's allegiances, the successful bid seems certain to come from the Star camp. Lufthansa chairman and chief executive Jurgen Weber confirms that the group has deposited a letter of interest, although he says it will be "left to later to discuss which members would participate in which way". Weber adds that likely Star recruit Singapore Airlines "has also expressed an interest".

Despite Star's manoeuvring, it is not clear whether the alliance will be offered first refusal on a stake, or will face a challenge from outside.

Australian national carrier Qantas and its part owner, British Airways, is expected to present a bid from the rival oneworld alliance. Italian press reports have suggested that Alitalia might also attempt to prise Thai from Star, to give the emerging Wings group an Asian component.

"We would like to offer the opportunity to the Star members, but we have still not decided whether to throw open the bidding," says Thamnoon. "At the moment, the law says we have to go through the bidding process, but we are looking into the possibility of giving first option to Star."

He adds that Thai should be fully privatised over the next three years. The privatisation is a precondition of International Monetary Fund aid for Bangkok.

Source: Flight International