HNA to buy 23.7% stake in Brazil’s Azul for $450m
Chinese conglomerate HNA Group is expanding its global footprint by acquiring a 23.7 percent stake in Azul Brazilian Airlines, the thirdlargest carrier in Brazil, for $450 million.
Following the stake deal, HNA will become the largest shareholder in Azul and also have a seat on the board of the Brazilian carrier. The two sides will cooperate on flights, new routes and frequent flyer plans in the future, according to a statement fromHNA.
Azul has 145 aircraft flying to more than 100 destinations in Brazil and the United States.
“With this transaction, Azul has become the highestcarrier in Brazil, at about 7 billion reais ($1.89 billion),” said David Neeleman, Azul’s chief executive, who is also founder of Jetblue, a major low-cost carrier in the US.
Neeleman, who founded Azul in 2008, said the deal will benefit the carrier in various ways, such as improved capital flow, a continued renewal of its fleet, and better products and services for clients.
The Chinese conglomerate decided to invest in Azul as it is convinced about the long-term potential of the carrier, he said.
In addition, it also eases pressure on the Brazilian company to raise capital through a public float, said Neeleman, adding that the carrier had deferred listing plans in New York and Sao Paulo several times since 2013.
Tan Xiangdong, president of HNA, said: “HNA is working on expanding its business in the aviation sector and is investing in powerful companies globally.”
The huge passenger flows between China and Brazil, which are strong trading partners, also played a significant role in facilitating the transaction, said the statement.
With this transaction, Azul has become the highest-valued carrier in Brazil...”
Brazil’s largest trading partner for years and in the first half of 2015, bilateral trade reached about $34.24 billion.
But there are no direct flights from China to Brazil yet due to the long distance involved, and most Chinese travelers transfer via Europe or the US.
Hainan Airlines, the subsidiary of HNA Group, is ramping up efforts to expand its network in the US and Europe and its international network could extend to South America through the stake deal, some analysts said.
Li Lei, deputy director of Minzu Securities Co Ltd, said South America is still virgin territory for most Chinese carriers, but that the cooperation between HNA and Azul will help both sides save on fleet maintenance costs, as they are clients of Brazilian aircraft maker Embraer SA.
HNA has already showed its ambition in the global aviation market with several initiatives.
It set up AfricaWorld Airlines in Ghana with some other investors in 2012 and acquired a 48 percent stake in Aigle Azur in France in 2012.
It is also a shareholder of Comairhe in South Africa and myCARGO Airlines in Turkey.
Chen Wenli, vice-president of HNA, said: “HNA will become a total investor in the future and look for suitable targets for its various business units, such as aviation, tourism, logistics and finance.”