Wry & Dry

Barnaby, where are you? Are the Chinese stalking Virgin Airlines?

The folk in the bush (and others) have kicked up a merry fuss over Chinese interests buying up agricultural land.  And other 'national assets'.

But all is silent on the airline front.

Many readers might think that Richard Branson owns Virgin Australia Airlines.  Err, no.  After a recent capital raising and shareholder shuffle, the Virgin Group owns just 9%.

A tiny slice (7%) is listed on the ASX

Most of the rest is held by four 'strategic partners'...

VirginNanshan Group, which recently bought almost all of Air New Zealand's holding, is a large privately owned Chinese conglomerate that owns a tiny airline in China, Qingdao Airlines, and a private jet business along with interests in sectors spanning aluminium, agriculture, education and property. 

Qingdao Airlines is a start-up airline, with just 11 aircraft.

The reasons for Nanshan's investment is a mystery.  Perhaps because the investment was for sale.  The usual synergies do not seem obvious.

On the other hand, the stake held by HNA Innovation (effectively Hainan Airlines) makes a lot of sense. HNA is the largest privately-owned air transport company and the fourth-largest airline in terms of fleet size in China. It operates scheduled domestic and international services on 500 routes from Hainan*. 

HNA has a fleet of 160 aircraft and is known to be a quality airline.

The shareholder re-shuffle hasn't worked well for Singapore Airlines.  But readers can expect more re-shuffling in years to come.  As well as Virgin's closer ties to China.

A cynical person might reflect upon China's creation and then occupation of islands in the South China Sea at the same time as pondering Virgin's shareholding.

Barnaby Joyce**, where are you?

* Hainan is the most southerly and smallest of China's provinces.  It has a population of about 9 million.  The province now includes a range of atolls and formerly rocky outcrops visible at low tide.  These disputed islands and outcrops, some many hundreds of kilometres from Hainan Island, are also claimed to be owned by Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia, Philippines and/or Brunei. 

** Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the National Party, Australia's conservative, rural political group.