Rupert Murdoch's News Corp is considering a total takeover of Ansett New Zealand in a final bid to remove obstacles to the proposed merger of Air New Zealand and Australian domestic Ansett.

Severing the controlling link between Ansett Australia and Ansett New Zealand appears to be the only way to rescue the long-running attempt by the Auckland-based carrier to buy itself into Australia's aviation market by purchasing TNT's 50 per cent stake in Ansett. This move would have given Air NZ a share of Ansett's NZ sister carrier, currently its only competition in the domestic market. This prospect led the New Zealand Commerce Commission to veto the merger in early April because it would give Air NZ a domestic monopoly. Ironically, the knock-back comes as Australia's new liberal government prepares to reopen talks with Wellington on a trans-Tasman aviation market.

But Ansett desperately needs recapitalisation to fund its expansion programme, and the addition of 10 aircraft including B767s to its fleet to increase its domestic capacity. Ansett, which is already flying to Hong Kong, Osaka, Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Bali and Jakarta, will also launch services to Seoul from July and is bidding for access to China with plans to launch services to Shanghai.

This follows successful bilateral talks between China and Australia allowing three airlines from each side to fly routes. At present only Qantas and Air China are allowed to operate once weekly services between Beijing and Sydney. The new agreement adds Brisbane, Perth, Shanghai and Shenzhen and permits a staged increase in capacity to 13 weekly flights by 1998.

Tom Ballantyne

Source: Airline Business