With the deadline of 1700L on November 7 looming for Credit Suisse to receive final bids from potential investors, two consortia - led by Aekyung Group and Hyundai Development Co - are seen as the frontrunners to acquire the 31% stake up for grabs in Asiana Airlines (OZ, Seoul Incheon), South Korea's Yonhap news agency has reported.

An initial round in September shortlisted Aekyung, the Hyundai-Mirae Asset Daewoo consortium, Korea Corporate Governance Improvement (KCGI), and Stone Bridge Capital. Aekyung and Stone Bridge later formed an alliance in October.

Aekyung-Stone Bridge and HDC-Mirae "are likely to be the main competitors" to buy the stake in Asiana and its six affiliates, an anonymous source at the airline told Yonhap on November 5. The affiliates include two low-cost carriers, Air Seoul (RS, Seoul Incheon), which is wholly owned by Asiana, and Air Busan (BX, Busan), in which Asiana holds a 46% stake.

One of the country's giant conglomerates, such as SK Group or GS Group, may still participate by becoming a corporate strategic investor with KCGI, the source said.

The Aekyung-led consortium has stressed that it is the only bidder with 13 years of experience in operating an airline. Aekyung Group parent AK Holdings holds a 56.9% stake in the LCC Jeju Air (7C, Jeju).

“There is no precedent in which a company that does not have experience of operating an airline has succeeded in an airline acquisition. As Aekyung has Jeju Air under its wing, its acquisition of Asiana Airlines is in line with global M&A trends,” Aekyung said.

The 31% stake has been valued, according to closing prices on November 4, at KRW360 billion won (USD311 million). But because new shares will be issued as part of the deal, analysts have estimated it could attract bids of up to KRW2 trillion (USD1.7 billion). Asiana parent Kumho Asiana Group aims to complete the sale of the stake, which is held by its subsidiary Kumho Industrial Co., by the end of this year.