'Strong interest' in Thai AirAsia IPO

Thai AirAsia's top shareholder has reported strong demand for its shares in an initial public offering that will raise funds for a fleet expansion at the fast-growing low-cost carrier.

Asia Aviation PCL, which owns 51 percent of Thai AirAsia, said there was an "overwhelming response" from institutional investors, with the offer 10 times oversubscribed during the process to determine the initial share price.

It plans to offer about 1.2 billion shares -- a stake of about 25 percent -- for 3.70 Thai baht (12 US cents) each during May 23-25, which would raise $143 million, according to a statement received on Wednesday.

The group will use part of the proceeds to increase its stake in Thai AirAsia to 55 percent with the purchase of new shares, enabling the airline to double the size of its fleet within the next five years, it said.

"This is another crucial step that will stabilize Thai AirAsia's financial status and allow the company to march forward to its planned goal," Asia Aviation chief executive Tassapon Bijleveld said.

"We aim to grow at least 20-25 percent from 2011, which will be supported by our new fleet, new route plans and flight frequency increase on potential routes."

Malaysia-based AirAsia has grown rapidly since former record industry executive Tony Fernandes bought the failing airline in 2001.

Its route system has spread throughout Asia and beyond, and the company has set up subsidiaries in Thailand, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

AirAsia first announced in late 2010 that it planned to list its Thai joint venture by the end of 2011 but the plan was delayed amid adverse market conditions.

Thai AirAsia currently serves more than 30 airports in Thailand and overseas, with a fleet of about two dozen Airbus A320 planes.

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