Merger could spark major airline


A giant new airline could be formed following news that British Airways is in talks about a possible merger with Australian carrier Qantas.

The news sent BA shares leaping by more than 14% at one stage as BA said it was looking to achieve a tie-up through a dual-listed company structure. Should a merger come about, both airlines – which already jointly market, or codeshare, on some routes – would retain their identities.

BA said that the Qantas talks would not affect its talks about a merger with Spain’s Iberia in a move that could eventually lead to a tie-up with giant US carrier American Airlines. BA held a stake in Qantas from 1993 to 2004 but sold its 18% in 2004, while continuing its codeshare agreement.

A spokesman for BA said: “In response to recent media speculation, British Airways confirms that it is exploring a potential merger with Qantas Airways via a dual-listed company structure.

“The discussions between BA and Iberia are continuing. There is no guarantee that any transaction (with Qantas) will be forthcoming and a further announcement will be made in due course, if appropriate.”

The speculation over a BA-Qantas tie-up comes on the day the Australian Government released a transport green paper considering whether to overhaul foreign ownership rules in Qantas that currently limit a single foreign holding to 25% and 35% in total for all foreign airlines.

The prospect of consolidation in the airline sector has been fuelled by sky-high oil prices and the prospect of a deep global recession. BA recently announced a 90% fall in half-year profits and said it was axing services from its summer 2009 schedule.

Qantas – which stands for Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services – was formed in 1920. It employs around 37,000 people and flies to 145 destinations in 37 countries. Qantas has an airline subsidiary, Jetstar, and has just taken delivery of its first Airbus A380 superjumbo.

Virgin Atlantic chief executive Steve Ridgway said: “One day it’s Iberia, then it’s American, and now Qantas. The only strategy BA seems to have is to lock-up some of the busiest routes in the world, against the consumer interest.

“During a downturn, there is no excuse for competition laws to be suspended. Regulators need to scrutinise these merger attempts like never before and ensure that consumers aren’t disadvantaged by BA’s attempts to become even more dominant, to the detriment of true competition.”