Ansett in holding pattern for word on $150m lifeline
By Darren Goodsir and Linda Doherty
Ansett's administrators will learn today whether they will receive a $150 million lifeline from their former parent, Air New Zealand, but the airline's long-term survival was still unclear last night.
Bids from five parties are expected to be finalised over the weekend.
Justice Alan Goldberg will decide at 4.30pm if the Kiwi carrier's formal separation from Ansett, in which it escapes liability for costs, should be ratified.
His ruling will clarify Ansett Mark II's direction as administrators Mark Mentha and Mark Korda prepare to receive bids late today on buying all, or parts, of the business.
The Federal Court decision will also put the spotlight back on Air New Zealand's precarious financial state and the fate of the New Zealand Government's $850 million rescue package.
Despitesacking of 800 of its 9,000 workforce, cutting flights and releasing chief executive Gary Toomey, Air New Zealand may not have done enough to stem its losses.
This has led to renewed speculation that Qantas is circling to fold Air New Zealand into its fleet and form a trans-Tasman monopoly carrier.
But a Qantas spokesman said the company had not revised its May bid to take a cornerstone shareholding, though it would enter talks if invited.
A spokeswoman for the New Zealand Finance Minister, Dr Michael Cullen, said:
"Qantas is not part of the Government's agenda, at this stage."
Unions and the Labor Party continued their attack on the Transport Minister, John Anderson, for his demand for the $150 million to be diverted to paying workers' entitlements, a move that could imperil the survival of Ansett Mark II.
Mr Anderson has been targeted by the board of Air New Zealand, who accused him of contributing to Ansett's collapse last month.
But Mr Anderson said the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, inquiring into possible insolvent trading, was "going after the reckless job-wreckers from over there who have created this mess. Plainly there are those who want to fit us up with responsibility, and we are not going to wear it."
Mr Anderson also cast doubts over claims by the administrator and the ACTU that ticket sales on Ansett Mark II were strong. "I am concerned that not enough people are flying Ansett to really make it hum and I do urge people to think carefully about their travel plans to include Ansett," he said.
The administrators last night denied reports they had requested an emergency cash advance from the Federal Government to meet the costs of redundancy payments.
The Ansett-staff syndicate, ANstaff, will present a bid today to the administrators to maintain a full service airline, keeping all routes and most of the 16,000 jobs. But it is still to announce details of its financial backing.
News Corporation's chairman, Rupert Murdoch, told the company's annual general meeting that News had no role in Ansett's collapse and Air New Zealand had knocked back its plans to expand overseas.
"We had ambitions to take it on routes which we were entitled to take, which certainly would have been profitable. At every point in that, Air New Zealand, as a 50 per cent shareholder, blocked us,"
Virgin Blue, which will take possession of another Boeing 737-800 next week to add to new routes and services, has announced it will fly daily from Brisbane to Mackay from October 31.