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Lucio Tan tightens control over Philippine Airlines amid succession talks

Tycoon's involvement signals stability at the country's largest carrier

Philippine Airlines is looking to bag a five-star rating from Skytrax to boost its global profile.

MANILA -- Tycoon Lucio Tan has become the interim president of Philippine Airlines, consolidating his control over the country's largest carrier amid succession talks surrounding his business empire.

The 85-year-old businessman, who is concurrently the airline's chairman and CEO, assumed the role on July 12, pending a formal ratification by the board during a meeting later this month. He will keep that role until the board finds a new president, sources said.

Vivienne Tan, the tycoon's daughter, was named officer in charge last month, and will assist her father in the day-to-day operations.

"Our goal is to ensure an orderly and seamless transition of leadership to ensure that our mandate to serve the traveling public is achieved," she said in a statement on Wednesday. "Thus, it is in the best interest of PAL and its stakeholders for my father and I to work together pending the turnover of day to day operations to the next PAL president and chief operating officer."

PAL's former long-time President and COO Jaime Bautista abruptly retired last month, a few weeks after he was reappointed to the position. The airline said Bautista wanted to spend more time with his family.

During Bautista's tenure, the president and COO handled the airline's daily operations, with the CEO providing guidance and direction, a PAL official said.

Beatrice Lopez, an analyst at brokerage Regina Capital Development, said the development eases anxiety among investors and employees, but doesn't mean any significant change at how PAL is managed.

"It just means people can be assured that there would be not much change, the company is stable and whoever is appointed has the right understanding of what Lucio Tan sees for PAL's future," Lopez said.

PAL, which received an investment from Japan's ANA Holdings early this year, is looking bag a five-star ratings from Skytrax to boost its global profile. The company was upgraded to four-star rating last year.

Succession issues have swirled around the airline since Bautista's sudden departure, and Vivienne Tan's appointment as OIC and not president.

LT Group, which holds Tan's assets in banking, tobacco, distilleries and real estate, became entangled in the succession talks when Michael Tan, the tycoon's son and COO of the conglomerate, recently unloaded shares in the $3.4 billion company.

But while Tan is consolidating his control over PAL, Lopez believes it is only a matter of time until the succession is finally set in motion.

"Tan is in the process of ensuring that companies are transferred to the right family members," she said. "We can say Lucio Tan is putting succession things in order."

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