Shinichiro Ito, ANA chairman, said the airline group was in discussion with “several carriers” as part of its strategy to expand internationally and to seek synergies in the Asian market. Mr Ito, whose group owns the Peach and Vanilla low-cost carriers in Japan, said consolidation was particularly needed in Asia’s budget sector where “there are too many” competitors.

ANA Holdings has been looking to invest in a south-east Asian airline for years, after raising Y170bn ($1.4bn) in an equity issue in 2012. But subsequent talks with carriers have not yet produced a deal. Last year, ANA scrapped its $25m plan to buy a 49 per cent stake in Myanmar’s Asian Wings Airways because of intensifying competition in the recently opened market.

Mr Ito said the number of fully or partially state-owned carriers made consolidation more difficult in Asia than in Europe or the US.

“It is almost impossible to close the deal. Therefore, instead of buying up one company, having a little stake in each other, knowing each other, and enjoying synergies — that could be a more concrete way of doing this,” he said. “Those are the things that are under way.”

Such a strategy echoes the model being pursued by Etihad, the Gulf carrier that takes minority stakes in international carriers with a view to optimising business practices, route planning and to secure savings in aircraft and ancillary purchasing.

Barclays analyst Ryota Himeno predicts that consolidation among Asian carriers could happen within the next five years.

ANA could be pushing at an open door in Vietnam, where the government has been seeking a strategic partner to take a stake to help the airline expand, after selling 5 per cent to investors last year in an initial public offering. People close to the subject said the Vietnamese government was seeking to sell a further 20 per cent to a partner.

For ANA, Vietnam could be an attractive market with Japanese companies making active advances into the country as they seek to reduce their exposure to China. Direct investment by Japanese businesses in Vietnam more than tripled to $9bn between 2011 and 2014, compared with the previous four years, according to the Japan External Trade Organisation. Aeon, Japan and Asia’s biggest retailer, opened two big shopping centres in Vietnam last year.

Mr Himeno says a direct investment into an Asian carrier, as opposed to a business alliance, could potentially give ANA an edge in negotiations to secure more landing slots at Asian airports.

The rise in profits from a recent decline in oil prices and a boost in Chinese tourists to Japan have mitigated urgent pressures for ANA to pursue international tie-ups. But the company is actively expanding its international services, launching a new route linking Tokyo and Houston in June. It also plans to double its services to Beijing and Shanghai and launch a new route from Haneda airport to the southern city of Guangzhou in October.

By Peggy Hollinger & Kana Inagaki - The Financial Times - October 4, 2015

The carrier also this summer beat Delta Air Lines of the US to take a 16.5 per cent stake in Japan’s troubled Skymark budget carrier. ANA executives played down the potential for the two airlines to work together, however. The deal had been driven more to ensure that rival Japan Airlines did not secure any benefits from Skymark’s woes, they said.

“With low-cost carriers increasing their market share, legacy carriers will come under pressure and consolidation is likely to happen. ANA is carefully monitoring those opportunities,” Mr Himeno said. He added Japanese carriers would probably play a key role in an industry shake-up because of their robust cash positions.