Copied across from the HERALD
Airlines ready to ditch stranded passengers
By Darren Goodsir, Transport Writer
Virgin Blue is almost certain to withdraw its discount fares for abandoned Ansett passengers after the Federal Government last night helped the failed airline's administrators to get planes back in the air.
Qantas, which ends its free flight offer for travellers today, is also likely to curtail its deals.
Both carriers had agreed to provide free flights, subject to available seats, to passengers stranded in the middle of their journeys - and give discount fares until the end of October to travellers who had booked tickets.
But Virgin Blue's head of commercial, Mr David Huttner, said the Government's support to establish an Ansett Mark II put those plans in jeopardy.
"We have serious concerns about this," he said.
With capacity to increase with Ansett Mark II, Qantas has stepped up its negotiations with an aircraft leasing firm that wants to take back planes from Ansett.
Barely a day after abandoning a deal to lease 10 jets directly from Ansett, Qantas is sweating on the actual owners of the planes.
Under the plans, Qantas could have 17 aircraft in the sky within weeks.
Virgin Blue will also soon have fresh aircraft, pushing for leasing deals to expand its fleet with up to 10 Boeing 737 and 757 planes.
Qantas last night confirmed it was holding talks with Ansett Worldwide Aviation Services (AWAS) - a leasing company distinct from the airline and owned by investment bank Morgan Stanley Dean Witter - in the hope of striking a deal that would put 40,000 extra seats on clogged routes.
It is also talking to Boeing and Airbus directly over "the purchase and long-term lease of aircraft for its domestic operations".
The chief executive of Qantas, Mr Geoff Dixon, said the airline would "make a firm decision on these aircraft after a detailed assessment of international economic conditions and the overall difficulties in the aviation industry".
Qantas wants up to eight A-320s, six Boeing 767s and three Boeing 737s.
The beauty of the AWAS proposal is that it already has an air operator's certificate and can immediately provide pilots, and cabin crew to Qantas, on
The deal's fate hinges on hearings in the Federal Court, where Ansett's administrator, Mr Mark Mentha, has already succeeded twice in fending off lessors by having his period of cost-immunity extended. However, leasing firms are certain to protest against any further extensions, because some are paying head-lessors while incurring huge losses to Ansett.
Apart from looking to beef up its fleet with leased aircraft, Qantas is bringing home from international routes bigger planes to provide an extra 18,000 seats a day.
Since Ansett's grounding on September 14, Qantas says it has put on 275 extra domestic flights, and 109 flights using bigger aircraft - carrying for free 45,000 Ansett passengers, with another 40,000 stranded travellers getting discount fares.
Mr Huttner said Virgin Blue wanted to quickly increase the size of its fleet through fresh lease deals.
"But we want to grow at our own pace, at a pace we can sustain," he said.
There it is , in black and white