Buyer in sight for Air Macau stake

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 September, 2002, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 September, 2002, 12:00am

Transportes Aereos Portugueses (TAP), Portugal's state-owned flag carrier, may have finally found a ready buyer for its Air Macau stake in the former Portuguese enclave's SAR government.

A report published yesterday in the Diario Economico, a Portuguese newspaper, said TAP would sell its 20 per cent stake in Air Macau to the Macau government, according to Bloomberg.

While no sources were cited in the report, it said the sale would be discussed during a visit this week to Lisbon by Ao Man-long, Macau's secretary for transport and public works.

The newspaper also said Mr Ao was scheduled to meet the TAP board during his Lisbon visit.

TAP is believed to have been trying to unload its stake in the Macanese carrier for at least the past year but has had trouble finding a willing buyer, given its high asking price, believed to be in the 25 million euro (about HK$190.13 million) range.

The Portuguese carrier earlier tried to interest China National Aviation Corp (CNAC) in taking up its stake when CNAC was reshuffling assets with its Hong Kong-listed arm in March.

CNAC, which also controls Dragonair, was one of the founding partners in the HK$385 million joint venture that formed Air Macau - along with TAP, Stanley Ho Hung-sun's Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau and other investors - with a 51 per cent stake.

CNAC was understood to have baulked at enlarging its interest in Air Macau because of the high price tag and because it already has a majority control.

As a result, suggestions the Macau government was interested in buying TAP's stake began emerging in August.

At the time, Mr Ao told newspapers a purchase by the government was a possibility, given that it was trying to encourage more use of the Macau airport for long-haul flights.

The government's plan would be to sell the stake to another strategic investor, presumably a foreign airline with which Air Macau could then co-operate on international services, Mr Ao said at the time.

As much as 80 per cent to 90 per cent of passenger traffic through the Macau airport, which opened in 1995, comes from mainland-bound travellers from Taiwan, but this is being threatened by the possibility of eventually resuming direct cross-straits air services.

To help develop Macau's aspirations as a tourist and gambling mecca for Asia, the government believes it needs to be served by a more diversified air-services network.

TAP stopped operating flights to the former colony in 1998, saying the service was not profitable.