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Li Ka-Shing mulls stake in Irish air lease firm Awas

aircraft interior Image copyright AFP
Image caption Investing in aircraft leasing is seen as more lucrative than owning an airline

Asia's richest man, Li Ka-Shing, is looking to buy into Irish aircraft leasing firm Awas in a deal that could be worth $5bn (£2.97bn).

The Hong Kong-based billionaire's Cheung Kong Holdings has signalled its intention to buy 100 planes from Awas.

The move is part of the group's shift away from Hong Kong, where it fears opportunities are becoming limited.

Mr Li's companies have raised $9bn so far this year by selling stakes in Hong Kong firms.

Dublin-based Awas, currently owned by UK businessman Guy Hands' Terra Firma private equity fund, is one of the largest aircraft leasing firms in the world.

It owns more than 300 planes and has 100 airline customers, including Qantas and Thai Airways.

In its filing to the Hong Kong stock exchange, Cheung Kong said: "The company has been exploring new investment opportunities to generate additional stable revenue streams to drive forward its growth momentum."

Should the deal go ahead, it will see Cheung Kong follow the likes of Bank of China, China Development Bank and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China by investing in aircraft leasing.

While airlines have historically offered poor returns, owning planes and renting them to airlines and operators is booming.

European planemaking giant Airbus predicts the world will require 29,220 new planes by 2033.

But with long delivery times and high upfront costs, leasing offers airlines the chance to fly modern planes sooner and more cheaply than would otherwise be possible.

Although Li Ka-Shing's empire already includes ports, telecoms, property and utilities, this would mark his first foray into aviation since his son's abortive attempt to buy a stake in Air Canada in 2003.

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