Japanese OTA to take stake on new AirAsia budget airline

Japan’s biggest online retailer Rakuten is reported to be planning to take a major stake in a Japanese budget airline to be established by Malaysia’s AirAsia.

A move into the airline business could help the acquisitive Japanese company controlled by Japan’s fourth-richest man, Hiroshi Mikitani, boost its online travel site that is already one of the nation’s largest.

A similar strategy was pioneered two decades ago by travel company H.I.S when it set up Skymark Airline, which has since become Japan’s leading discount carrier.

A deal with Rakuten would see AiaAsia revive ambitions to expand into Japan after pulling out of a joint venture with All Nippon Airways last year after it failed to attract passengers.

AirAsia owner Tony Fernandes and Mikitani are expected to announce the deal on July 1 in Tokyo, the Nikkei business newspaper in Japan said.

Both men share a passion for sports, with Mikitani’s company owning baseball team Rakuten Eagles and Fernandes the major shareholder in London football club Queens Park Rangers.

Fernandes declined to comment when asked if AirAsia was planning a venture with Rakuten. The Japanese company in a statement said it had nothing to announce at present, Reuters reported.

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