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TPG, BlackRock show early interest in SriLankan Airlines stake -sources

| SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE Oct 5 Private equity firm TPG and fund company BlackRock Inc are among half a dozen firms which have shown preliminary interest in a 49 percent stake in loss-making SriLankan Airlines Ltd, people familiar with the matter said.

They said Sri Lanka is looking to sell the stake along with management control in the restructuring national carrier as part of its efforts to reduce support for state-owned firms and cut government debt.

In July, a unit of state-run National Savings Bank, the lead manager overseeing SriLankan Airlines' revamp, invited offers from strategic investors who would assume responsibility for turning around the airline and its budget subsidiary Mihin Lanka.

A senior Sri Lankan finance ministry official said TPG and BlackRock were the two top international firms among the bidders. He declined to be identified as the bids are still being evaluated.

BlackRock and TPG declined to comment. It was not immediately clear who were the other bidders. Sources also said it was too early in the process to estimate a potential deal value.

SriLankan Airlines was a profitable 10-year joint venture with Emirates Airline until the pair split in 2008. Mismanagement in the years since has left it with debt of around $3.25 billion, Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe has said.

"The government is looking at someone to solve the airline's struggles," said one person familiar with the matter. The person, who was not authorised to speak to the media, declined to be identified.

SriLankan Airlines is due to give details of its restructuring plan at a media event later on Wednesday.

The people said government is expected to shortlist parties and pick a final bidder in the next couple of months, adding that the government has indicated it would take on a substantial portion of the debt owed by the airline.

The companies are expected to start due diligence after the shortlist has been finalised.

SriLankan Airlines has attractive routes to India and analysts have said potential investors could be drawn to the prospect of turning around the carrier, which has about 21 leased Airbus planes.

Srilankan Airlines reported a net loss of 16.33 billion Sri Lankan rupees ($112 million) for the year to March 31, narrower than its 31.4 billion rupees a loss year earlier on lower oil prices. It last made a profit in 2009, a year after Emirates sold its stake. ($1 = 146.1800 Sri Lankan rupees) (Reporting by Anshuman Daga and Shihar Aneez; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

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