Nationalization of Asiana possible: FSC's Sohn

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Nationalization of Asiana possible: FSC's Sohn

Financial Services Commission Vice Chairman Sohn Byung-doo, far right, during a meeting held Tuesday in central Seoul. [YONHAP]

Financial Services Commission Vice Chairman Sohn Byung-doo, far right, during a meeting held Tuesday in central Seoul. [YONHAP]

 
All ways to keep cash-strapped Asiana Airlines afloat are being considered including nationalization, according to Financial Services Commission Vice Chairman Sohn Byung-doo.

 
Asked about possible public ownership of the country’s second-largest air carrier, Sohn told reporters Tuesday that “discussions about [the fate of Asiana Airlines] are being held with related parties taking all possibilities into account.”
 
He added, “There’s no need to rashly conclude which direction [Asiana Airlines] is heading.”
 
Sohn answered reporters following a meeting held in central Seoul to discuss companies dealing with the coronavirus crisis. 
 
On Sunday, Hyundai Development Company (HDC) requested a three-month re-evaluation of Asiana Airlines and its affiliates to reconsider contract terms for acquiring Korea’s second-largest air carrier.
 
The subsidiaries include budget carriers Air Busan and Air Seoul.
 
A consortium consisting of HDC and Mirae Asset Daewoo signed a deal with Kumho Industrial, which owns a 30.77 percent stake in Asiana Airlines, to acquire Asiana Airlines late last year, well before the impact of Covid-19.
 
In recent months, HDC has been claiming Asiana hasn’t met obligations to conclude the deal.  
 
Last month, Asiana's creditors, the Korea Development Bank (KDB) and Export-Import Bank of Korea (Eximbank), said HDC didn’t seem “sincere” about the acquisition and hadn’t responded to requests for face-to-face negotiations.
 
“The situation hasn’t changed,” said Cho Min-jae, a spokesperson for the KDB, on Tuesday.
 
The state-run KDB and Eximbank could own around 37 percent shares of Asiana airlines if they convert 800 billion won ($668 million) worth of bonds into stock.  
 
“Justification for the nationalization of Asiana Airlines is that the government will resell the airline to a private company once its value recovers after Covid-19,” said Prof. Hur Hee-young, who teaches business at Korea Aerospace University. “But for the airline’s value to rise, a competent CEO needs to come in, not someone assigned by the government.”
 
Hur added there are hardly any nationalized airlines in developed countries. 
 
"Thai Airways and Mongolian Airlines are a few state-run airlines. Such public airlines are difficult to compete against," Hur added.  
 
Following Sohn’s remarks, shares of Asiana jumped 20.65 percent on Tuesday, closing at 4,295 won.  
 
BY JIN MIN-JI   [jin.minji@joongang.co.kr]

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