Page last updated at 18:42 GMT, Tuesday, 2 December 2008

BA exploring merger with Qantas

Qantas planes at Sydney airport
The Australian government may change foreign ownership rules

British Airways has said that it is exploring a potential merger with the Australian flag-carrier Qantas Airways.

BA warned there was "no guarantee that any transaction will be forthcoming".

In a statement, BA said that the merger would be through the creation of a dual-listed company, so it would be listed in London and Australia.

It follows indications from the Australian government earlier in the day that it may be prepared to relax the rules on foreign ownership.

Under current Australian law, Qantas must be at least 51% Australian-owned.

Any individual foreign airline can only own up to 25% of it and only a total of 35% may be owned by foreign airlines.

Transport Minister Anthony Albanese proposed earlier on Tuesday that the rules be changed so that while 51% must still be Australian-owned, the remaining 49% may be owned by a single foreign airline.

Consolidation

The future of Qantas has been uncertain since an 11bn Australian dollar ($7.1bn; 4.8bn) bid for it from Airline Partners Australia (APA) collapsed last year due to lack of support from shareholders.

A British Airways plane

There is an EU investigation underway into a proposed revenue sharing deal between BA and American Airlines, which would allow them to agree fares, routes and schedules together.

BA also said that its discussions with the Spanish flag-carrier Iberia are also still continuing.

BA shares soared following the announcement, rising 12.46%, or 17.4 pence, to end the day at 157.1p.

It is a time of consolidation in the airline sector, which was hit by the high fuel prices earlier in the year and is particularly vulnerable to the economic downturn.

'Seeking assurances'

Brian Boyd, national officer at Unite trade union in the UK, said: "This announcement is further evidence of the current difficulties within the civil aviation industry. BA is continually searching for consolidation partners.

"However, this union's immediate concern is the future employment prospects of our 25,000 members who form the majority of BA employees.

"We will therefore be seeking assurances that these or any other future merger plans do not having a negative bearing on our members existing terms and conditions of employment."

BA held a stake in Qantas for 11 years until 2004, when it sold its 18.25% shareholding to raise money to pay off some of its debt.

Falling profits

It its most recently announced results, BA reported a 91.6% drop in six-month profits, blaming "incredibly difficult trading conditions" for the plunge.

Its pre-tax profit totalled 52m between April and September, down from 616m a year earlier.

Qantas fared better in its results for the year to the end of June.

Its pre-tax profit rose 36% to 1.408bn Australian dollars.

But the airline warned at the time that the business was starting to see the effects of a slowing economy and rising fuel prices.

Last week, Qantas announced a fresh set of capacity cuts as the global financial crisis continued to hit demand for airline seats.

BRITISH AIRWAYS: 02 December 2008
British Airways intraday chart
*All Times GMT


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SEE ALSO
Profits plunge at British Airways
07 Nov 08 |  Business
BA target Iberia has 6-month loss
05 Aug 08 |  Business
Airline Qantas to cut 1,500 jobs
18 Jul 08 |  Business
Qantas flights grounded by strike
23 Jun 08 |  Business
Qantas scales back Asia flights
05 Jun 08 |  Business

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