Air China says Beijing green-lights ownership reforms of cargo business

Air China's logo is seen on a counter of Air China at a terminal of Beijing Capital International Airport in Beijing, China, March 28, 2016. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/File Photo

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - Air China Ltd has received the green light from Beijing to push ahead with mixed-ownership reform of its air freight logistics business, the firm said late on Friday, signaling a potential shake-up of China’s cargo carrier market.

In a filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange the carrier said its state-owned parent, China National Aviation Holding Company (CNAHC), had received the approval from China’s top state planner, the National Development and Reform Commission.

China’s long-awaited mixed ownership reforms will allow private capital to invest in firms run directly by the central government, and are part of an ambitious revamp of the country’s sclerotic and debt-ridden state sector.

“CNAHC will start to push forward the mixed-ownership reform in air freight logistics,” it said, adding the move would likely affect the listed company and some of its subsidiary firms.

Domestic media has previously reported China’s top airline freight carriers could merge to form a cargo transport giant.

An official at the Civil Aviation Administration of China told the official Xinhua news agency in 2015 that Air China Cargo, China Cargo Airlines and China Southern Cargo could be combined.

Earlier this month the news agency reported China would soon release details of ambitious ownership reform plans at central government-owned firms, including telecom giant China Unicom and China Eastern Airlines.

The central government, which has made mixed ownership reform one of its priorities, currently owns and administers 102 enterprises in sectors from nuclear technology to medicine.

This week, China’s cabinet endorsed guidelines by the country’s state planner to reduce leverage in the corporate sector and push forward with mixed-ownership reforms at state-owned enterprises this year.

Reporting by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Jacqueline Wong