Qantas Airways has tweaked the structure of its troubled Jetstar Hong Kong venture with local partner Shun Tak Holdings, in a bid to better demonstrate that control of the business resides in Hong Kong, and speed up the launch of the airline.
In its annual accounts released last week, Qantas said its ownership interest in Jetstar Hong Kong accounted for under the equity method had fallen to 25 per cent from 33 per cent at the time of its last update in February, which listed the interest as of December.
A Jetstar spokeswoman said the start-up airline's share registry had been updated in February to reflect changes to the voting structure and the appointment of two new board members from Shun Tak.
The Hong Kong company, Shun Tak Holdings, now has 51 per cent of the shareholder voting rights, while Qantas and China Eastern will each retain 24.5 per cent.
"Changes to the voting rights and the appointment of additional board members from the local investor were made to further cement the Hong Kong leadership and governance at a board level," the Jetstar spokeswoman said.
Rival Cathay Pacific has been lobbying against approvals for Jetstar Hong Kong on the basis that it does not comply with Hong Kong's Basic Law on the basis that real control of the airline will be in Australia.
The change to voting rights is the latest move taken to demonstrate that control is in Hong Kong. The airline was initially a 50-50 joint venture with China Eastern, but Shun Tak was introduced as a shareholder last year.
Jetstar Hong Kong had nine A320 aircraft sitting idle at Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, France, but it has since sold six amid the regulatory delays, leaving three needed to gain its operating licence. In July, China Eastern provided Jetstar Hong Kong with a $US60 million loan to cover ongoing expenses, which did not change the ownership structure.
There is industry speculation that Jetstar will not receive a hearing on its licence to start operations until January at the earliest.
Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce last week deflected questions about whether there were any signs of a breakthrough with regulators on Jetstar Hong Kong, noting his airline was only a minority shareholder.
"[Chairman Pansy Ho] is leading the charge at getting the approvals and she continues to be optimistic about getting there, and I think any other questions on this should be directed to Jetstar Hong Kong," he said.
Jetstar Hong Kong is the low-cost carrier's fourth Asian offshoot, with the others being Singapore's Jetstar Asia, Vietnam's Jetstar Pacific and Jetstar Japan. Qantas last week reported $40 million in losses from Jetstar Asia and $70 million from the other Asian arms combined.
Qantas last week ruled out the possibility of setting up any new Jetstar arms while the parent company is focused on cutting $2 billion of costs over the next three years.
Industry sources said Qantas had sought a buyer for part of its Singapore arm, but had not found one that would agree to maintain the Jetstar branding.