Aircraft fleet will be replaced and 4,000 employees will keep jobs under new owners

Australian businessmen Lindsay Fox and Solomon Lew have bought the bulk of bankrupt Ansett Australia's assets for A$1.1 billion ($567 million). The two men are believed to have struck a deal to lease surplus United Airlines Airbus A320s for the operation.

The resurrected airline will lease a fleet of 29 new A320s due for delivery from early next year at the rate of three aircraft per month in an agreement struck through Airbus for the United aircraft.

Star Alliance partner United has announced plans to defer delivery of a large number of the aircraft it has on firm order as it struggles to cope with a sharp fall in passenger traffic following the 11 September terrorist attacks in the USA.

Qantas recently struck a deal to buy 15 Boeing 737-800s that had been due for delivery to its Oneworld partner American Airlines.

Tesna Holdings, the consortium formed by Fox and Lew, is expected to take on 4,000 Ansett employees and operate its terminals and maintenance bases. It intends to provide passengers with a full cabin service rather than adopt the "no-frills" product offered by rival Virgin Blue.

It remains unclear whether Singapore Airlines, which has been working on a business plan to resurrect Ansett on behalf of administrator Andersen, will take on any kind of management role. Andersen expects the Tesna deal to be wrapped up before February, if creditors are happy with the undisclosed cash injection included in the acquisition price and approve the offer.

Initially, Tesna will operate Ansett's current fleet of 20 leased A320s. If business booms, the new carrier will either continue using some of the older aircraft after deliveries of the new A320s finish around October 2002, or order more new aircraft.

The rest of Ansett's fleet will be returned to lessors or sold, with the proceeds used to settle employee redundancy claims and help pay off its creditors. Meanwhile the search continues for buyers for four of Ansett's regional subsidiaries.

Fox and Lew are also expected to request aid, possibly financial, from the government in the coming weeks to help bolster Tesna Ansett.

Source: Flight International