Virgin Australia shareholders become strange bedfellows

China's Nanshan Group will buy about 20 per cent of Australia’s second-largest airline from Air New Zealand.

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Chinese companies have upped their stake in Virgin Australia Holdings as a second mainland conglomerate bought a stake in the carrier. The Nanshan Group will buy about 20 per cent of Australia’s second-largest airline from Air New Zealand, the Auckland-based carrier said in a statement recently. Nanshan’s assets stretch from aluminium to property and include the two-year-old Qingdao Airlines.

HNA Group, the owner of Hainan Airlines, last month said it plans to buy 13 per cent of Virgin Australia and struck a code-share alliance with the Brisbane-based airline. The company, which operates Hainan Airlines, Hong Kong Airlines and several other Chinese carriers which include Tianjin Airlines, Lucky Air, Capital Airlines, West Air, Yangtze River Airlines, Air Changan and Fuzhou Airlines.

While the Australian carrier is now better placed to tap the Chinese travel market, its shareholding is an odd mix — among them Singapore Airlines and Etihad Airways. If the deal is approved, Nanshan Group will hold almost as large a share as the other partners, making Virgin Australia’s shareholding a mix of strange bed fellows with four airlines as key backers.

Last month, billionaire Chen Feng’s HNA Group said it wants to raise its holding to 20 per cent over time. After issuing new shares to HNA Group, SIA was to hold 20.1 per cent stake and Etihad 21.8 per cent, according to the Australian carrier.

“It’s not a marriage made in heaven,” said Neil Hansford, chairman of Strategic Aviation Solutions, a consultancy firm north of Sydney, told Bloomberg. “You’ve got two sophisticated legacy-type carriers in Singapore and Etihad mixing with start-up Chinese. I think it would be a very difficult board table to sit around.”

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