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Current as of 21/11/14 11:00AM NZST

Grant Bradley

Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Alliance tipped to open door to ownership of Virgin

Photo / NZ Herald
Photo / NZ Herald

Air New Zealand's proposed alliance with Singapore Airlines increases the likelihood of the two airlines eventually owning Virgin Australia, according to Maquarie research.

The airlines have a combined stake of just on 45 per cent and before their alliance plan was announced two weeks ago, Maquarie said Air New Zealand and Singapore were the most likely partners to take their combined shareholding in excess of 50 per cent.

"It has been our view that ultimately AIR [Air NZ] and SIA [Singapore] would end up owning Virgin and the proposed alliance strengthens this view," analyst Warren Doak said.

Etihad has a 19.9 per cent stake but, according to Macquarie, Virgin doesn't fit the typical target for equity investment by the Middle Eastern airline.

Air New Zealand has a 24.6 per cent stake in Virgin and has not commented publicly on its long-term ownership ambitions, saying only that it has no plans to take Virgin private and that it was important the Australian airline remained an independent listed entity.

Singapore Airlines and Air New Zealand's proposed alliance would enable Air New Zealand to return to the Singapore route and provide a boost in capacity on the service. Revenue and code sharing arrangements would be put in place.

The Maquarie research note said Singapore and Air New Zealand were "the most natural fit" of the three when considering potential shareholder combinations. The two had overlapping strategic interests and the prospect of an improved relationship with each other.

Air New Zealand began buying into Virgin in 2011 as a way of gaining access to the Australian domestic market - five times bigger than the market here - and to rationalise its transtasman operations.

Both Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon and Etihad chief James Hogan are to take a seat on the Virgin board but there has been no announcement from Singapore Airlines.

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