Air Asia talks HNA over asset purchases

Asia.nikkei.MAYUKO TANI, Reports :AirAsia discussed possible acquisitions from debt-laden Chinese hospitality conglomerate HNA Group, the founder and CEO of one of the region’s largest budget airlines said Tuesday.

Tony Fernandes said he met HNA co-founder and Chairman Wang Jian and spoke with him about a wide range of possible cooperation, adding that he “for sure” will consider acquiring businesses from HNA.

“We had a discussion,” Fernandes told the Nikkei Asian Review on the sidelines of the Credit Suisse Asian Investment Conference. “They own a lot of airlines … lots of infrastructure and catering. They are a big boy in the aviation industry. If we can work together, learn from them, why not?”

Asked if he is interested in buying Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express, which are owned by HNA, Fernandes said, “We are always interested in whatever opportunities go our way.” But he said the discussions he has had so far with Wang have not been about airlines in Hong Kong specifically.

HNA, which also owns Hainan Airlines, was an aggressive buyer of overseas property, hotels and businesses. Chinese regulators and creditors are now pressuring HNA, which is hurriedly offloading assets to ease its debt load. The Hong Kong-based airlines are on a list of assets the company could sell.

The cash-strapped company is also considering listing wholly owned unit Swissport International, the world’s largest airport services operator.

On another front, Fernandes said AirAsia Japan is his airline group’s “big priority,” adding that AirAsia Japan’s growth is hindered by country’s the conservative regulators and slow route approval process.”Our expansion could be much bigger and quicker, but we are held back. Nowhere in the world do the [regulatory approvals] take so long,” Fernandes said, describing the process as “old fashioned.”

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