Thursday 07 Dec 2023
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This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly on January 24, 2022 - January 30, 2022

AIRASIA Group Bhd, which is looking to scale up its logistics business Teleport to take advantage of the booming air cargo market, has approached prominent businessman Datuk Ishak Ismail, whose family controls Raya Airways Sdn Bhd, to buy the air cargo carrier, according to people familiar with the matter.

However, the conversations are in the early stages and may not materialise into a deal. Also, The Edge learns that top executives at Raya Airways are not keen to sell the air cargo carrier as they plan to take it through the initial public offering (IPO) route themselves.

When contacted, representatives for Raya Airways say they will refrain from commenting, given the speculative nature of the questions.

Teleport CEO Pete Chareonwongsak tells The Edge that he has no knowledge of any discussions related to news of AirAsia Group’s interest in Raya Airways.

“This is, however, a sign of our growing investment and relevance in logistics. Teleport has just had its best year in 2021 and is larger and growing faster than we were pre-Covid-19,” he says.

He notes that Teleport’s capital raising is underway. “Our fundraising efforts are in late stage progress and we will announce when we are over the line.”

Teleport is looking to secure about US$50 million (RM209 million) to US$100 million of fresh funds as part of a plan that includes expanding its fleet to six freighters by 2023 and going public in three years.

The boom in air cargo demand has led Teleport to convert several of AirAsia Group’s passenger aircraft into temporary cargo planes, as well as permanently convert two Airbus A320 passenger jets into freighters. In November last year, it partnered with Thailand’s K-Mile Asia to operate a dedicated Boeing 737-800 freighter (737-800F) to serve key markets — including Hong Kong, Shanghai, Chennai, Mumbai and all the major destinations in Southeast Asia — from Thailand.

Teleport nearly tripled its revenue for the third quarter ended Sept 30, 2021 (3QFY2021) to RM157.9 million from RM55.7 million a year ago as it strategically grew its cargo network to establish its presence in the market by operating more charter flights. Teleport made up 53% of AirAsia Group’s overall revenue for 3QFY2021.

Teleport’s improved cargo business, however, was offset by its investment in last-mile delivery services, which at the current expansion stage is still operating at a loss position, it said when announcing its financial results for 3QFY2021 on Nov 22 last year. In November 2021, Teleport completed its acquisition of Delivereat, a Malaysian food delivery platform, for US$9.8 million. The deal valued Teleport at US$300 million.

“Air cargo is one part of our end-to-end logistics, and the industry outlook is good in 2022 as demand from supply chain and e-commerce continues to be strong, while capacity is expected to recover as more borders begin to open,” says Chareonwongsak.

It is worth noting that AirAsia Group was classified as a Practice Note 17 company according to Bursa Malaysia listing rules on Jan 7, and is in the process of formulating a plan to regularise its financial condition.

Air cargo has been a bright spot in a pandemic-battered airline industry. According to the International Air Transport Association, global cargo revenue is expected to rise to a record US$175 billion in 2021 and US$169 billion in 2022. “Economic conditions continue to support air cargo growth, however, supply chain disruptions are slowing growth,” the airline group said in a statement on Jan 11.

Teleport is not the only one making the necessary investments to tap the boom in air cargo. Malaysia Aviation Group Bhd (MAG) has hired Standard Chartered Bank to explore strategic options for MAB Kargo Sdn Bhd (MASkargo), its profitable wholly-owned air cargo unit. “We are looking at having a global reach ... bringing in [a strategic investor] that has a strong network is an option,” MAG group CEO Captain Izham Ismail told The Edge in an interview last month.

Long-haul, low-cost carrier AirAsia X Bhd has also said that it will pivot to the cargo business and is looking at converting a couple of its planes to full freighters.

Fledgling carrier flying high

Sources close to the company say the booming demand for air cargo has provided Raya Airways with the ideal environment to go public. In September last year, online news portal The Vibes, citing sources, reported that Raya Airways had been weighing an IPO.

Companies Commission of Malaysia (SSM) data shows that Raya Airways’ net worth has more than quadrupled in the past five years, to RM102.64 million as at Dec 31, 2020, from RM23.46 million at the end of 2016.

The filing also shows that Raya Airways is wholly-owned by Raya Aviation Holdings Sdn Bhd, which in turn is held in trust by CIMB Islamic Trustee Bhd, with Raya Airways group managing director Mohamad Najib Ishak holding one share.

Raya Airways’ and Raya Aviation Holdings’ directors are Mohamad Najib, Siti Nur Aishah Ishak, Mohamad Yusof Ishak — who are the children of Ishak — and Tan Tong Lang is the company secretary.

The air cargo carrier has embarked on an expansion spree in recent years, strengthening its fleet of freighter aircraft, network of routes and employees. With a team of close to 450 staff, the carrier currently has a fleet of three 767-200Fs and one 737-400F and operates scheduled air cargo services into major regional hubs such as China, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam and Hong Kong as well as Kota Kinabalu, Kuching and Labuan.

Raya Airways turned a profit in the financial year ended Dec 31, 2019 (FY2019), marking its first time in the black since taking flight in November 1993. In FY2019, the carrier logged a net profit of RM3.02 million, compared with a net loss of RM19.16 million in FY2018, according to SSM filings. Its revenue rose 25% to RM197.61 million from RM158 million in that same period.

In FY2020, Raya Airways’ net profit surged 2,473% year on year to RM77.73 million, while revenue rose 69% y-o-y to RM334.12 million. It has yet to file its financial statements for FY2021 with SSM.

Last Wednesday, Raya Airways chief commercial officer Muhamad Hidayat Rahim said in a statement that the carrier is exploring numerous routes to add to its regional footprint. “In the months ahead, we will be announcing exciting destinations across Asia-Pacific, including within China and other countries. Wherever there are business hubs with robust future prospects, we aim to be there,” he added.

Raya Airways is the restructured entity of Transmile Air Services Sdn Bhd, formerly a wholly-owned subsidiary of Transmile Group Bhd whose RM530 million accounting fraud was the biggest corporate scandal in mid-2007. Transmile Air Services was acquired by Amrul Nizar Anuar Resources Sdn Bhd — in which Ishak was a director — for RM40 million.


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