Beijing is speeding up the drafting of regulations governing foreign equity investment in its aviation industry - a move which will see bigger foreign ownership in domestic airlines and airports. The Hong Kong Commercial Daily yesterday cited sources as saying details of the relaxation would be announced this year and that foreign ownership in airports and airlines would be raised from about 35 per cent to probably 49 per cent. Analysts said foreigners might even take controlling stakes in some airports. Despite that, a spokesman for BAA - formerly the British Airports Authority and the world's biggest airport operator - last night said there was no 'major difference' between 35 per cent and 49 per cent in ownership. But the move was 'a step in the right direction', she added. Foreign operators have long been lobbying for a controlling stake in mainland airports. Mainland industry regulators could not be reached for comment yesterday, but an official with a mainland airport company believed details of the relaxation would be released soon. There are no clear rules on how much equity foreigners can own in airports, although most take the maiden overseas listing of Beijing Capital International Airport on Hong Kong's main board in February as an indication. Foreigners bought about 35 per cent of the airport in the float. The expected move also is part of Beijing's reforms to brace the country's aviation industry amid its expected entry into the World Trade Organisation later this year or early next year. The proposal could give domestic aviation companies desperate for capital more funding avenues as they face growing competition, the source said. He said the move would not threaten domestic operators because mainland companies still controlled their businesses and that mainland firms would be able to strengthen themselves in the transitional period while foreigners enter the market. As part of the move to strengthen the aviation industry, Beijing Airport's parent and Tianjin Binhai Airport are undergoing a merger, with the aim of becoming a stronger player. Last month, Beijing announced the consolidation of the mainland's airlines into three groups. They will be based on Air China, China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines. The latter two are listed in Hong Kong and New York. Meanwhile, Air China yesterday reported a 6.1 billion yuan (about HK$5.7 billion) profit, up 13.78 per cent from the year before, according to a Xinhua report quoting official figures, continuing the robust growth seen by China Eastern and China Southern.