Gatchalian eyes new airline

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — Plastics king William Gatchalian wants to go back to the airline business two decades after he sold Air Philippines to taipan Lucio Tan, who also owns Philippine Airlines.

Industry sources said Gatchalian had tapped close associate Sergio Ortiz-Luis as chairman for his new airline venture, while another ally, Miguel Varela, will sit as board director.

Ortiz-Luis confirmed the report but said talks were preliminary.

Ortiz-Luis, president of the Philippine Exporters Confederation, is also a director of Gatchalian’s Waterfront Group.

Gatchalian plans to make a comeback in the airline business on a personal capacity.

Ricky Ricardo of the Waterfront Group’s corporate affairs office issued a disclaimer that the businessman’s hotel and leisure company had nothing to do with the plans.

“As far as I know, the idea of going back to the airline business was never brought up in the Waterfront Group level. The group remains focused on its core business on hotels, leisure and services. We have exited the airline business a long time ago, and it makes more sense for us to continue staying out of that business,” said Ricardo.

Gatchalian in earlier interviews signified a continued interest in the airline business after he sold his shares in Air Philippines, which now flies missionary routes, or those not serviced by its bigger affiliate, Philippine Airlines.

Industry sources said Gatchalian’s interest might have further been stirred by the entry of another Filipino-Chinese, banker and fruit juice maker Alfredo Yao, into the airline business via low-cost carrier Asian Spirit, the country’s fourth-largest airline.

Yao is the owner of Zest-O Corp. and RC Cola. He also owns Philippine Business Bank and sits as director of Export and Industry Bank.

Donald Dee, who has been designated as chairman of Asian Spirit, confirmed rumors that Yao was in China to meet with traders for the acquisition of seven brand-new aircraft for the airline’s refleeting.

Dee, Ortiz-Luis and Varela are closely affiliated with the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

Dee said the first phase of the refleeting program involved the acquisition of two Airbus A-320 for regional and long-haul domestic flights and another five 60-seater Jetcraft ideal for short distance flights.

He said the refleeting would start next month up to early 2009. The first batch of new aircraft will be delivered from June to July this year.

Dee added Asian Spirit had a fleet of more than 10 aircraft, most of them specially designed for short take-off and landing.