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Cathay Pacific mulls  bid for HNA's HK carriers

Hong Kong

CATHAY Pacific Airways Ltd, Asia's biggest international carrier, is studying a bid for stakes in two smaller Hong Kong airlines backed by embattled Chinese conglomerate HNA Group Co, people with knowledge of the matter said.

Cathay Pacific has held preliminary talks with HNA about acquiring minority stakes in Hong Kong Express Airways Ltd and Hong Kong Airlines Ltd, said the sources. A couple of local tycoons have also been considering investments in Hong Kong Airlines, one of them said, asking for anonymity because the information is private.

HNA has already trimmed one of the country's biggest debt piles by selling off dozens of assets from hotels to stakes in aircraft leasing companies. Its plan to sell almost a third of its stake in Hong Kong Airlines was held up last year after the sudden death of HNA co-chairman Wang Jian, Bloomberg News reported in August.

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Hong Kong Airlines and Hong Kong Express would be attractive because of the routes on which they have rights to fly, the people said. The suitors' discussions with HNA have been progressing slowly, and there's no certainty they will result in a transaction, said the sources.

Nearly all the parties involved declined comment. Hong Kong Airlines would only say via e-mail: "Hong Kong Airlines is here to stay and committed to sustaining its long-term growth. We have and will remain open to discussions with strong strategic investors."

Cathay Pacific has fired at least 600 workers and pared back some overseas operations after wrong-way bets on fuel hedges drove it into losses. The carrier has also been facing competition from budget airlines and from Middle Eastern full-service rivals. BLOOMBERG