Virgin Blue is applauding the new Open Skies bilateral between Australia and the USA, and Qantas has moved quickly to maximise its rights under it. Praising the new accord, Australia's transport minister Anthony Albanese predicts it will be good for competition, a remark echoed by Brett Godfrey, Virgin Blue's chief executive. He says the deal clears the way for Virgin Blue's new V Australia subsidiary to launch US flights later this year.

The new agreement has prompted Qantas to file with Australia's international air services commission an application to expand its US authority to the fullest extent. It seeks unlimited capacity and frequency for passenger and cargo services, and the right to codeshare with its own subsidiaries. Qantas low-cost subsidiary Jetstar, which has been flying to Hawaii since the end of 2006, plans to eventually serve the US mainland but recently said it would be another three years before it is ready to do so.

So far Qantas has not disclosed any additional US flight plans. Based on past practice, it is more likely to boost capacity on existing routes - it currently serves Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York - than open new ones.

The new accord came after Australia asked the US government to revise the bilateral so that V Australia could operate 10 weekly frequencies to the USA. V Australia is preparing to launch flights in November between Australia's east coast and the US west coast using a fleet of new Boeing 777-300ERs but has not yet revealed which airports it will serve. United Airlines opposed V Australia's request unless Australia accepted an Open Skies ­bilateral. Negotiators agreed on such a pact after only one round of formal talks.

It remains unclear how much US carriers will use their expanded Australian rights. United, which has said nothing yet about additional flights, is the only US carrier that now operates services to Australia from the US mainland. Continental Micronesia, however, serves Cairns from the US territory of Guam and Hawaiian has served Sydney from Honolulu since 2004.

Delta Air Lines, which has been looking at launching flights to Australia as early as 2009 using its new fleet of Boeing 777-200LRs, could become the fourth US carrier serving Australia. Air Canada also served the US-Australia market until December, when it dropped the Honolulu stop to its Vancouver-Sydney flight and converted it to a ­non-stop service.

Source: Airline Business