Asiana Airlines may be sold separately

Potential buyers of Asiana Airlines Inc that attempted to acquire the full-service carrier last year are paying attention to the company again amid the possibility that it may be sold separately.

State-run Korea Development Bank (KDB) is reviewing an option to give local builder HDC Hyundai Development Co another round of due diligence on the air carrier, according to industry sources on July 28. KDB is likely to decide either to allow HDC re-evaluate the air carrier or scrap the deal as early as this week.

HDC is widely expected to scrap the deal. Some industry sources said HDC made excuses in preparation for abandoning its planned acquisition of the indebted carrier, saying prerequisite conditions for the deal’s closure were not met. The builder may be unable to proceed with the acquisition under the current terms and conditions amid growing uncertainties in the aviation industry caused by the prolonged Covid-19 pandemic.

Against this backdrop, prospective buyers are showing interest in a possible Plan B. Many expect the air carrier to be sold separately.

Under the current deal structure, Asiana Airlines will be acquired by HDC along with its subsidiaries including budget carriers Air Busan and Air Seoul, Asiana IDT and Asiana Airport. If Asiana Airlines finds separate buyers for its subsidiaries, the full-service carrier may be sold separately after improving its financial structure.

If the company is sold separately, the value of old shares owned by shareholders including Kumho Industrial is also expected to be repriced. Pessimism over the aviation industry is growing with the impact of  Covid-19 showing no sign of abating soon.

“If creditors take action on the airline’s financial structure and put it up for sale after selling its subsidiaries separately, an acquirer’s burden will be considerably lightened,” said a private equity industry source.

Potential buyers that joined the race for Asiana Airlines last year are paying attention to whether the company will be sold separately. Market insiders widely expect that it is likely to take at least six more months for Asiana Airlines to be put up for sale after hiving off its subsidiaries. Prospective buyers will have stronger interest in the airline if the aviation industry begins to show signs of recovery.

In case the airline is sold separately, Korea Corporate Governance Improvement (KCGI), Hanjin Kal’s second-largest shareholder, and Stonebridge Capital are expected to participate in the acquisition deal. Aekyung Group, which joined the race last year, is likely to be passive in acquiring the company this time due to the recent collapse of the deal between Eastar Jet and Jeju Air, which is owned by Aekyung Group.

“Even though the company will be sold separately, it is going to take a long time until it will be actually put up for sale,” said an industry source, who added that it will be more comfortable for the seller to negotiate with potential buyers that had previously reviewed the deal. (Reporting by Ik-hwan Choi)