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Air China Eyes IPO by Year-end

Air China is expected to launch its overseas initial public offering by the end of this year, according to company sources on May 14.

The airline, China's flag carrier which operates many of the country's international flights, is likely to gain a full-year profit well above its previous target of 1 billion yuan (US$120 million) for the year due to soaring air travel.

"The company is to be listed in Hong Kong at around the end of this year, but no further details I can provide at the moment," said Wang Jie, Air China's Shanghai branch general manager, on the sideline of a press conference Sunday.

Air China gained a profit of 750 million yuan (US$90.61 million) during the first four months of the year, Wang added.

It reported a net gain of 93 million yuan last year when business was hit by SARS.

The Beijing-based company, which runs more than half of the international flights on the Chinese mainland, is expected to reach a code-share agreement with the British carrier Virgin Atlantic Airways soon.

The agreement would allow the firms to book seats on the partner's flights, increasing sales for both carriers. For example, Air China flies between Beijing and London while Virgin offers Shanghai-London service.

The airline, which is focusing on Beijing as its hub, is poised to get a greater share of the Shanghai market as the government plans to open Shanghai to all domestic airlines.

Yang Yuanyuan, head of Civil Aviation Administration of China, said last month that all domestic carriers will be welcome to launch flights originating in Shanghai starting next spring.

"We plan to raise our market share in Shanghai from the current 12 percent to 15 percent in one to two years," said Wang of Air China.

Officials of rival Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines Co Ltd announced earlier they'll try to corner half of the Shanghai market by the end of next year, rising from its current 36 percent.

(eastday.com May 17, 2004)

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