British billionaire Richard Branson of Virgin Group is touted to be taking a stake in Malaysia’s new AirAsia long-haul budget airline, the Star newspaper reported. Branson will take a 20 percent stake in Fly Asian Express (FAX), teaming up with Asia’s aviation tycoon Tony Fernandes to run flights from Malaysia to China, Europe and Australia, the newspaper reported, citing sources familiar with the negotiations.
It said AirAsia chief executive Fernandes and his deputy Kamarudin Meranum will sell 20 pct of their stake to Branson, the founder of Virgin Group.
Fernandes has a 50 pct stake in FAX, while Kamarudin owns 30 pct.
Although Fernandes had previously denied Branson’s involvement, he admitted that the two parties are in discussions, the newspaper reported.
‘I won’t hide the fact that we’re talking, we’re always exchanging ideas, but it is not settled,’ Fernandes was quoted as saying by the newspaper in a separate interview.
FAX recently signed a contract for 15 wide-body A330-300 airliners from Airbus, with the first new A330 to be delivered in the third-quarter of 2008.
Each aircraft costs 175 mln usd and the purchase will be funded with a combination of’ borrowings and equity.
FAX is scheduled to begin its long-haul flights to China and Australia from Sept 8, using three leased planes from the low-cost carrier terminal at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA).