Thai AirAsia, King Power to combine strengths

Thai AirAsia, King Power to combine strengths

China to be common focus

From left: King Power CEO Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, King Power chairman and billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and Thai AirAsia CEO Tassapon Bijleveld, pose for photographs after a news conference at the King Power headquarters in Bangkok on Tuesday. (Reuters photo)
From left: King Power CEO Aiyawatt Srivaddhanaprabha, King Power chairman and billionaire Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha and Thai AirAsia CEO Tassapon Bijleveld, pose for photographs after a news conference at the King Power headquarters in Bangkok on Tuesday. (Reuters photo)

The new largest shareholder of a company that owns 55% of Thai AirAsia will combine the strengths of his retail and tourism empire with the expertise and affordability of the budget carrier.

The Bijleveld family -- Mr Tassapon, Miss Pattaree and Mrs Siritorn -- on Monday sold 1.89 billion shares, or 39% of Asia Aviation Plc's paid-up capital, to a group led by Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha at 4.20 baht each, totalling 7.94 billion baht. After the deal, Mr Vichai controlled 39.82% in the budget carrier while the Bijleveld family held 5%.

"I have always been interested in aviation businesses. We used to have 5% in Nok Air when it was launched but the stake was too small to make a difference," said Mr Vichai, founder and chairman of King Power International Group, the operator of the country's only duty-free store chain.

The synergy with Thai AirAsia will support King Power's core business, especially in China, the major market of both companies, Mr Vichai said at a briefing on Tuesday.

"Thai AirAsia will add new routes in China and bring tourists to shop at King Power," he said.

The 58-year-old tycoon, who in 2010 bought the 2016 English Premier League champion Leicester football club, will send his sons -- Aiyawatt and Apichet -- and Sombat Dechapanichkul to sit on AAV's board.

Tassapol Bijleveld, chief executive of AAV, said he had sold most of his family's shares at a price which reflected regulatory limitations. According to Thai laws, a Thai carrier must be at least 51% owned by Thai nationals. The limitation means there were few buyers in the market.

Mr Tassapol still holds the remaining 5% stake and viewed the strong ally in the tourism industry would strengthen Thai AirAsia's business.

"The same team of executives and I will continue to manage the airline. We remain committed to growth just as we did when we launched the airline 13 years ago," he said.

"[Thai AirAsia] will continue to grow and invest as planned for in 2016, accepting delivery of 51 new aircraft which, together with our existing fleet, will fly our estimated 17 million passengers to various destinations across the region," he said.

Like Mr Vichai, Mr Tossapol had his eyes on China.

"We will also look to further expand our flight network within Asean, as well as routes to China and India, and with the support of Mr Vichai’s King Power Group we may well see the company’s growth accelerated beyond what was originally anticipated," he added.

Last year, Thai Air Asia carried 14.8 million passengers and made $30-million net profit.

The acquisition won the blessing of Tony Fernandes, CEO of the Malaysia-based AirAsia Group, which owns the remaining 45% in Thai AirAsia.

"This investment proves that Thai AirAsia’s value proposition remains undiminished," Mr Fernandes said.

"The vote of confidence that comes from one of the most successful family businesses is fantastic. The potential tie-ups between AirAsia and King Power, Thailand’s sole duty-free operator, are massive and we look forward to working together, not only in Thailand but across the group and Asean," Mr Fernandes said in a statement released by AAV on Tuesday.

King Power CEO Aiyawatt, who serves on both boards, said the two companies would focus on their core businesses but would create new opportunities, especially in China and Asean.

"Thai AirAsia has China links and transports the most Chinese tourists [to Thailand] while King Power will expand its distribution channels. Both will also develop international co-brands," he said at the briefing. 

Apart from some extra board seats, there will be little change at AAV. Mr Tasspol will continue to serve as CEO of the airline and work with the existing management. Its expansion plans are also intact.

Also on Tuesday, Mr Vichai offered to buy the remaining AAV shares from other shareholders following the acquisition of its controlling stake on Monday.

The mandatory tender offer was for the remaining 2.92 billion shares of AAV and the price was set at 4.20 baht each, the same price used in the acquisition, according to a filing with the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET) on Tuesday.

Siam Commercial Bank will act as the financial adviser and financial supporter for the 12-billion-baht tender offer, which will be officially made on June 23.

AAV shares jumped 4.17% to 6.25 baht worth trade of 3.62 billion baht on Tuesday compared to the market's 0.44% gain.

Thai securities law requires that a buyer of more than 25% of a listed company's voting shares must offer to buy the remaining shares from other investors at the same price.

Shortly after the acquisition, regulators asked AAV to clarify why it had denied the news earlier when the SET had asked it about the rumours of the acquisition.

The regulator said it had asked AAV three times between April 7 and May 9. The company denied the news on May 9.

"The mentioned transaction occurred in a short period after the SET required AAV to clarify the news. Hence, in order to prepare the facts for investors, the SET requires AAV to clarify the mentioned circumstance via SETSmart [the SET's electronic filing system] within June 16, 2016," the regulator said in a statement on Tuesday.

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