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Qantas Board May Consider Fleet Restructure Plan

The board of Qantas Airways is expected to consider a plan next week to create a separate company to own its fleet of more than 200 planes, including orders for at least 65 Boeing 787s, analysts and media reports said Wednesday.

Qantas was also expected to weigh up previously flagged plans to spin off its freight unit and frequent flyer loyalty scheme and return up to A$2 billion (US$1.7 billion) in cash to shareholders.

The nation's biggest airline is considering options for a major restructure, an idea inherited from a private equity consortium which failed to secure a $9 billion takeover for the company in May.

One source familiar with the situation confirmed Qantas' board would meet next Wednesday but said a local newspaper report it would investigate a fleet spin-off was "highly speculative".

However, analysts said it was a logical move as aircraft values were rising and airlines could sell planes to a third party, such as private equity, and lease them back.

"Arguably now is a good time to unlock that capital benefit they have made, sell them to a third party and put yourself in a very happy cash situation," said Peter Harbison, managing director of the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation. "Off the back of a decent lease price and you are going to be cooking with gas for a very long time."

Qantas last week ordered an additional 20 Boeing 787 aircraft valued at $3 billion at list prices, taking its total orders to 65. It also has options for 20 more 787s and purchase rights for 30 more, which means a potential total of 115.

Qantas said in May it might "demerge" its express freight joint venture and was reviewing ownership of its frequent flyer programme. It also signalled increased capital returns with analysts predicting a share buyback of up to A$2 billion.

Qantas is also seeking a new chairman after Margaret Jackson said she would step down amid heavy criticism of the way management handled the failed A$5.45-a-share bid by a group including Macqaurie Bank and private equity firm TPG.

Qantas shares, which have risen about 7% since the bid collapsed, were trading a touch higher in a weaker overall market.

The Australian Financial Review newspaper said a restructure plan may include co-investment from aircraft leasing firms and selling a stake in the business through a stock market listing.

The idea is not new and has been considered by many airlines.

Indebted Malaysian Airlines Systems in 2002 transferred its assets to a government vehicle set up as a new holding company and then leased planes back from the state entity as part of a financial restructuring.

A Qantas spokesman declined to comment.

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