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UPDATE 1-Norwegian Air's owners approve deep-discount share sale

Terje Solsvik

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OSLO, Feb 19 (Reuters) - Norwegian Air's shareholders overwhelmingly endorsed on Tuesday the lossmaking airline's plan for a deeply discounted cash call to help bolster its finances, Chairman Bjoern Kise said.

Norwegian Air said on Jan. 29 it would raise 3 billion Norwegian crowns ($348 million) in a rights issue, just days after British Airways owner IAG ruled out a bid for the budget carrier.

Norwegian is trying to replicate on transatlantic flights the low-cost model that dominates the short-haul market, exemplified by the likes of Ryanair and easyJet, but is struggling to make the business profitable.

The European airline sector faces overcapacity and high fuel costs, with several operators going out of business, the latest being British-based Flybmi which filed for bankruptcy on Sunday.

In the rights issue, Norwegian's owners will get the right to buy two new shares at 33 crowns each for every share they own, compared with Monday's closing price of 93 crowns.

Holders of more than 99 percent of Norwegian's equity backed the proposal at a meeting on Tuesday, company officials said.

By selling new shares far below the market price, Norwegian will boost the value of each of the purchasing rights, which can be bought and sold.

This in turn allows Norwegian Air Chief Executive Bjoern Kjos and his business partner, the group's chairman, to sell some of their subscription rights and reinvest the proceeds in new shares, thus limiting the dilution of their joint stake which stands at 24.66 percent.

Norwegian said last month that billionaire investor John Fredriksen was among those who had agreed to take part in the issue. ($1 = 8.6295 Norwegian crowns) (Editing by Nerijus Adomaitis and David Holmes)