LONDON // British Airways (BA) said on Tuesday it was in talks about a merger with Australia's Qantas Airways, signalling further consolidation in an industry struggling to cut costs in the economic downturn. BA also said in a statement on Tuesday that prior merger talks between it and Iberia were continuing. Any merger with Qantas would be via a dual-listed company structure, BA said. "It's a good move for British Airways and Qantas," a trader said. "Basically, it means they would have got long-haul flight-sharing with Qantas. Qantas has a big exposure in the far east, so ultimately it will cut down the cost for BA." Earlier on Tuesday, Australian transport minister Anthony Albanese said Qantas would remain majority Australian-owned. A discussion paper for the industry, to be released on Tuesday by the government, would keep the existing cap on foreign ownership of Qantas at 49 per cent, Mr Albanese told state radio. But Mr Albanese said he would not be opposed to one foreign airline buying 49 per cent of Qantas, the world's 10th largest airline by market value, which has slashed jobs to combat the economic downturn. Shares in British Airways, which had been up 5.1 per cent ahead of the announcement, extended their gains to trade as much as 17.5 per cent higher at a two-month high of 164 pence. They eased back to be 10.3 per cent higher at 154.1 pence by the afternoon. *Reuters
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