Fri "Sydney Morning Herald"
Last-ditch mission to save Ansett
By Darren Goodsir
Ansett's prospective owners, Solomon Lew and Lindsay Fox, are in Europe on a last-ditch mission to lock in key investors, secure aircraft and finalise a deal with the Star Alliance network of carriers.
Despite recurring doubts about the deal's likelihood - and concerns over the shedding of 1000 further jobs - the Tesna syndicate's trip is seen as a big boost to its survival chances.
"It is the final act in overcoming nearly six months of uncertainty," said a source close to the $3.6 billion deal. "Of course, there are nerves, but it is too much to say this deal is unravelling.
"It is just in the last stages of being completed."
It is understood Mr Fox and Mr Lew, who assured staff on Tuesday that the deal would be completed by February 17, are meeting with Airbus executives about securing 29 A320 planes, after talks broke down with United to gain some of its surplus new fleet.
They are also updating Star Alliance, which represents 14 airlines, on their frequent flyer program for Global Rewards members who together lost 70 billion points.
Additionally, they are holding talks with the Air Partners syndicate, whose principals David Bonderman and Bill Franke have pledged support to Tesna's bid to resume full-service flights to 11 cities.
Air Partners's other investment vehicle, Texas Pacific, is believed to be close to buying Ansett's former caterers, Gate Gourmet, .
Last night, the talks between the Sydney Airports Corporation and Ansett's administrators - which appeared irretrievable on Tuesday - had again improved and a deal was again being talked up by both camps.
A spokesman for the corporation said: "We have had productive talks, which leads us to believe that some of the oustanding issues should be resolved shortly."
Ending the dispute in assigning Ansett's Sydney terminal lease should lead to more deals with the other domestic terminals.
"Once the Sydney Airport is done, the rest should fall into place relatively smoothly," the source said.
Ansett's administrators, Mark Mentha and Mark Korda, spent much of yesterday reassuring wary industry analysts that the deal was still on track, despite admitting in the Federal Court that they are nervous about losses of $1 million a day and the prospect of future legal claims.
Their attempt to get Justice Alan Goldberg's approval to shield them from litigation from creditors continued yesterday.
Counsel for the Australian Securities and Investments Commission and the ACTU, the largest creditor, have opposed the administrators' application.
ASIC's barrister, Michael Sifris, SC, said it was not the judge's role to sanction the administrators' conduct in continuing to absorb losses - while the ACTU's counsel, Jonathan Beach, QC, believes continuing operations should only be sanctioned until February 15. The administrators want to keep going until the end of the month.
A decision has been reserved until early next week.
Meanwhile, the Federal Opposition urged the Prime Minister to intervene and bring the parties together to save jobs and preserve aviation competition.
But the Treasurer, Peter Costello, said the matter was purely commercial and enough support had already been given to the airline.
"It would be best for everyone concerned if the deal goes ahead," he said.
"I hope the private sector consortium can put some more money in and operate a good airline."