Virgin to form alliance with AirAsia for long-haul ops

KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 7, 2007 (AFP) – Asian low-cost airline pioneer Tony Fernandes looks set to score a major coup with British businessman Richard Branson coming on board to help get his struggling, high-risk long-haul venture off the ground, analysts said Tuesday. Branson of Virgin Group is to take a 20 percent stake in Malaysia’s AirAsia long-haul budget carrier, a report said.

AirAsia chief executive Tony Fernandes declined comment on the report even as the company said it would be making a major announcement on Friday.

“I am not saying anything,” Fernandes told AFP.

In a separate statement, however, the company said long-haul operator “AirAsia X will be making a major announcement (Friday) involving a strategic global investor. We promise you it will be a memorable one.”

The Star daily earlier cited an industry source as saying that “selling of the 20 percent stake is the first round of funding required by the airline to kick-start operations and partly pay for the 15 aircraft that have been ordered.”

Branson, via the Virgin Group, would take the stake in Fly Asian Xpress Sdn Bhd (FAX), the long-haul operator. With the stake sale, FAX should be capitalised at 30 million dollars, the report said.

Branson is expected to attend the s