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Sat 11 Feb 2012 09:48 AM

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Gulf airlines rule out Kingfisher stake bid

Etihad, Qatar Airways says they have no interest in struggling Indian carrier

Gulf airlines rule out Kingfisher stake bid
Kingfisher Airlines, the struggling Indian carrier

Two major Gulf Arab carriers have said they have no interest in taking a stake in struggling Indian carrier Kingfisher Airlines, which is grappling with a pile of debt and on the hunt for fresh equity.

Abu Dhabi's state-owned Etihad Airways and Qatar Airways said they were not inclined to invest in Kingfisher.

Sources in India familiar with the matter told Reuters that Kingfisher was in early talks with Qatar Airways about a possible stake in the company. The Indian carrier is also known to have met officials at Etihad, one source said.

"We have no interest in Kingfisher," a spokesman for Qatar Airways said.

Etihad's chief executive James Hogan told Reuters that they too had no interest in the Indian carrier. He declined to elaborate.

Kingfisher, controlled by liquor baron Vijay Mallya, has said it is in talks with potential investors. Kingfisher officials did not immediately respond to a request seeking comment.

The carrier has failed in its long-running efforts to bring in fresh equity. Its banks are stuck with a quarter of Kingfisher's shares after a debt recast and lead lender, State Bank of India, refuses to lend more in the absence of an equity injection.

The cash-strapped carrier said last month that it had began talks with SC Lowy Financial, a Hong Kong distressed debt firm, in a sign it may be running out of more attractive traditional funding options.

One of the sources said Kingfisher was also talking with US private equity firm WL Ross. Officials at WL Ross did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Backed by sovereign wealth from oil-producing states, Gulf carriers have been on an aggressive acquisition drive in Europe, picking up stakes in debt-ridden airline companies.

Etihad, which is owned by Abu Dhabi, increased its stake in Air Berlin to nearly 30 percent in December and bought a 40 percent stake in Air Seychelles last month.

Qatar Airways bought a 35 percent stake in freight carrier Cargolux Airlines International last year.

These fast-growing carriers are seen as key potential investors in Indian carriers, which are struggling amid fierce competition. The Indian government is expected soon to allow foreign carriers to own up to 49 percent in local airlines.

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