Tues "Finanial Review"
Fox, Lew find new Ansett backer
A powerful international syndicate has thrown its weight behind the bid for Ansett by the Fox-Lew Tesna group, boosting its chances of a successful relaunch of the collapsed airline.
The consortium, led by the chairman of UK budget carrier Ryanair and Continental Airlines director, Mr David Bonderman, and a former chief executive of America West Airlines, Mr Bill Franke, has agreed to take between 35 per cent and 49 per cent of Tesna and play an active role in the management of the airline.
The deal puts pressure on Sir Richard Branson's no-frills carrier, Virgin Blue, which is also searching for an equity partner and has held talks with the Texas Pacific Group of Mr Bonderman and Mr Franke, among other potential investors.
It also leaves Singapore Airlines, which had been discussing a management contract with Tesna and the Ansett administrators, without a direct role in an Australian carrier. However, Tesna is negotiating commercial arrangements with Singapore and other Star Alliance carriers.
"Having looked first hand at Ansett and the overall market in Australia, I am convinced Ansett can be restored to being a great airline, and a great business, of which employees and the travelling public can be proud," Mr Franke said in a statement yesterday.
Ansett's administrators have conditionally sold the airline's mainline operations to Tesna.
However, the deal requires approval from Ansett's creditors at a meeting in January and is still being contested by Lang Corporation and Virgin Blue.
The chief executive of the dominant Qantas Airways, Mr Geoff Dixon, acknowledged the experience of Mr Bonderman and Mr Frank in the industry, saying: "These are serious people and we will take them seriously."
Virgin Blue's head of commercial operations, Mr David Hutt-
ner, said the carrier had always expected a third competitor and that the deal was "interesting".
"I think they'll find it's a very different operating environment in Australia," he said.
Tesna said that under the heads of agreement, Mr Bonderman's and Mr Franke's Air Partners III Australia would "contribute human resources, intellectual and financial capital and an international network of industry relationships to Ansett".
Mr Franke, who will oversee the investment, would work with Mr Fox and Mr Lew to appoint the senior management team. This is expected to be finalised this week.
There has been speculation about several candidates for the chief executive role, including former British Midlands executive Mr James Hogan, ex-Continental Airlines executive Mr Greg Brennerman, former Qantas executive turned Singapore consultant Mr Peter Stainlay, Ansett chief operating officer Captain Trevor Jensen and even Brisbane Lord Mayor Mr Jim Soorley.