Virgin Blue to revive bid for NZ route
By Vladimir Guevarra
AUSTRALIAN discount carrier Virgin Blue yesterday said it would meet New Zealand authorities on Monday to revive its bid to fly across the Tasman Sea - a move which can heighten its 'friendly rivalry' with Singapore Airlines (SIA).
Mr David Huttner, Virgin Blue's commercial chief, told the Straits Times his team plans to have a 'courtesy call' with New Zealand Transport Minister Mark Gosche on Monday.
'We're planning to have just a courtesy call with Minister Gosche, and see where we've left off,' he said in a telephone interview.
'We're just trying to review the various options on how to make Virgin Blue gain access to New Zealand.'
The renewed talks between Virgin Blue and the Kiwi government may increase the competitive atmosphere between Sir Richard Branson's no-frills airline and SIA.
Giving the green light for Virgin Blue to fly to New Zealand would mean a direct challenge to struggling Air New Zealand (Air NZ) - in which SIA has a 25 per cent stake.
Relations between Virgin Blue and SIA began to be strained in July when SIA chief executive Cheong Choong Kong said his company 'would not like it if Virgin Blue started operations in New Zealand'.
He had said he would 'be surprised' if Sir Richard's carrier began operations in New Zealand.
SIA has a 49 per cent stake in Sir Richard's Virgin Atlantic.
Virgin Blue, which now holds 20 per cent of the Australian market, is a separate company.
During a visit to Singapore last month, Sir Richard downplayed the tension, saying there is only a 'friendly rivalry' between Virgin Blue and SIA.
Yesterday, Mr Huttner said Virgin Blue 'has a chance of finally flying to New Zealand by next year'.
He refused to elaborate.
He also downplayed the tension with SIA and said: 'We're a different kind of airline so we don't see any competition. We don't mean to offend SIA, but we're just discussing things. Let's see how the talks turn out.'
When contacted yesterday, an SIA spokesman declined to comment.
SIA shares yesterday fell five cents to $9.80 while Air NZ's A and B shares both rose one NZ cent each to 37 NZ cents and 38 NZ cents respectively.