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Chinese investor weighs sale of Toulouse airport stake

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Paris (AFP)

A Chinese firm that holds the largest stake in southern France's Toulouse airport is considering selling out and has already received interest from potential investors, its chief said.

"Maybe a new shareholder or a new operator can bring better value to the airport," Mike Poon told AFP in an interview on Monday, adding the company was "studying opportunities".

Poon heads Casil Europe, the holding company created by China's state-owned Shandong Hi-Speed Group and the Hong Kong-based Friedmann Pacific Asset Management, which bought 49.99 percent of the airport for 300 million euros ($340 million) in 2015.

Last year the French government opted against selling Casil an additional 10 percent, which would have given it a controlling stake in the fast-growing regional hub.

It was a victory for local governments and the Toulouse Chamber of Commerce, which own a combined 40 percent stake and who had accused Casil of under-investing in order to extract as much profits as possible.

But Poon countered that the airport had invested more than 84 million euros ($94 million) since Casil acquired its stake -- 30 percent more than required under the development plan signed with the state.

Earlier this year Casil said it was considering bids for its stake, though Poon said no final decision on a sale has been made.

"We continually received a lot of solicitations from different potential investors," he said.

Press reports have suggested that French infrastructure group Eiffage would be a candidate, as would Vinci, which is also hoping to purchase the state's stake in Paris airports operator ADP.

In 2017, President Emmanuel Macron launched efforts to privatise state-owned businesses to raise funds for helping new technology ventures.

Traffic at the Toulouse airport has grown rapidly, reaching 9.6 million people last year, when the number of foreign passengers surpassed domestic travellers for the first time.

The increase has been driven mainly by low-cost European airlines like EasyJet and Ryanair.

"After we arrived, we have done a lot, changed the airport a lot," Poon said.

"There is only one thing we are still working on, to directly fly from China into Toulouse. We trust it will happen soon, no matter if Casil is staying or not," he said.

Casil has said it aims to boost traffic to 18 million passengers by 2046, in large part by developing connections between Chinese destinations and Toulouse, a city with an extensive range of industries, which is also the headquarters of European planemaker Airbus.

Poon's comments came ahead of a state visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to France starting Sunday.

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