Southeast Asia's largest budget airline AirAsia looks set for a major share swap with Malaysia Airlines in a deal to help save the struggling national flag carrier, reports said Sunday.
The papers, quoting unnamed sources, said that a partnership deal between the long-time rivals could be signed within days.
"It's a done deal, and it would mean that we could compete better," the Times quoted a source close to the deal as saying.
Malaysia Airlines in a statement to AFP declined to comment, saying that "this is a shareholder matter."
Khazanah Nasional Bhd, which owns about 70 percent of the national flag carrier, said it would make "further announcements... at the appropriate time" but would maintain its position as the single largest shareholder in MAS.
"As an active strategic investor, Khazanah constantly reviews ways to improve the performance of its portfolio companies and concurrently the competitiveness of key strategic sectors of the economy," it said in a statement.
The Star reported the deal negotiated over the past year was struck last week to save the struggling national carrier.
Under the deal, Khazanah would get a stake in AirAsia, while Tune Air Sdn Bhd, which owns 26 percent of AirAsia, would get a stake in Malaysia Airlines. Tune Air is helmed by Malaysian tycoon and AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes and another partner.
Fernandes and his partner confirmed in a joint statement that they would not become the single largest shareholder in Malaysia Airlines but did not elaborate further.
"As the major shareholders of AirAsia Bhd and AirAsia X Sdn Bhd (which operates long-haul budget flights), we are committed to increasing shareholder value in both our core investments by continuously exploring various opportunities to enhance our franchise," they said.
The deal would allow Malaysia Airlines and AirAsia to combine their flight frequencies and destinations. It would also increase their bargaining power with airports and aircraft makers.
"It's positive for Malaysia's airline industry giving the growing competition globally," Yeah Kim Leng, chief economist with financial research firm RAM Holdings, told AFP.
"The market is a bit small to have two large carriers emerging... An agreement to work together will bring benefits to both so that they can avoid duplication and share any resources," Yeah added.
He said the two airlines complemented each other -- with AirAsia specialising in low-cost flights, while Malaysia Airlines catered to a more upmarket segment.
Malaysia Airlines chairman left the company last month as it restructures its top team in a bid to return to profit.
The carrier posted a first quarter net loss due to rising fuel prices and a strengthening ringgit. AirAsia recorded a first quarter profit.
Source: AFP Global Edition