Casino tycoon Ho buys stake in HK budget airline

Gambling tycoon Stanley Ho buys stake in Qantas-China Eastern budget airline in Hong Kong

Associated Press

HONG KONG (AP) -- Asian casino tycoon Stanley Ho's transport company is buying a stake in a budget airline that Qantas and China Eastern Airlines are setting up in Hong Kong, the companies said Thursday.

Ho's Shun Tak Holdings Ltd. said Thursday it's paying $66 million for a third of the new venture that will fly under the Jetstar brand.

Australia's Qantas Airways and Shanghai-based China Eastern said in March last year that the $198 million venture would serve swelling numbers of Chinese travelers.

The venture was expected to start operating by mid-2013. But it has faced delays as it seeks regulatory approval.

Landing a local partner may help the venture secure that greenlight.

Hong Kong's transport department said earlier this week that it was reviewing its regime for designating local carriers and would freeze new approvals until the review is completed. It said businesses looking to start new airlines would have to meet requirements that include being incorporated in and having their main place of business in Hong Kong, a self-administered region of China with its own legal and financial system.

Shun Tak's businesses include operating ferry and helicopter service to the nearby gambling island of Macau. Ho, 91, is founder and chairman of Shun Tak but the company is now managed by his daughter Pansy.

Qantas' discount Jetstar brand also has ventures in Singapore, Vietnam and Japan.

China Eastern Airlines Corp. said the new carrier would buy 18 Airbus A320 jets over the first three years of operation.

The Jetstar Hong Kong venture is expected to fly short-haul routes to mainland China, Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia.

It's just one of a number of new budget carriers being launched around Asia, the world's biggest and fastest growing air travel market. The company hopes to profit from the rapidly growing numbers of Chinese travelers, including tens of millions that visit Hong Kong each year.

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