A more assertive Air New Zealand (ANZ) is defending its home turf in a series of moves that Pacific Blue claims are designed to scare off rivals.

No love has been lost between the two airlines since Pacific Blue, the offshore arm of Australia's Virgin Blue, entered New Zealand in January. In its latest move, ANZ's low cost unit, Freedom Air, is boosting services at Christchurch to keep Pacific Blue from becoming too entrenched at its base there. Freedom plans trans-Tasman flights from Christchurch to the Gold Coast and to Virgin Blue's home at Brisbane. Freedom says it may also set up a Christchurch crew base, also mirroring Pacific Blue operations.

In the move that prompts the loudest complaint, ANZ has announced plans for a Christchurch flight to the Cook Islands in the South Pacific. ANZ has never flown this route before, instead serving the islands only from Auckland.

ANZ's announcement comes two months after Pacific Blue disclosed it was applying for Cook Islands flights from Christchurch. ANZ insists that its plan evolved independently, but it mirrors Pacific Blue's proposal to launch in December with a mid-week flight.

Virgin Blue claims that ANZ's actions follow a consistent pattern, citing an April 2001 incident where ANZ also appeared to respond to Virgin Blue's suggestion that it could fly a direct jet route between Auckland and Dunedin. A month later ANZ announced a similar service.

Origin Pacific, New Zealand's second domestic airline, has a similar complaint pending against ANZ at New Zealand's competition commission. Virgin Blue's head of commercial operations, David Huttner, alleges that ANZ follows a pattern of duplicating initiatives announced by rivals before they have a chance to start them. In every instance, ANZ responds that its route decisions come from market analysis and not what competitors propose.

In another sign that it has become a stronger, more assertive airline, ANZ is launching its first Australian advertising campaign since Ansett's collapse, aiming to win a larger share of the Tasman market.

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Source: Airline Business