Ansett/Air New Zealand has come in with a new cash offer of A$1.35 ($0.74) per share for Australian regional Hazelton Airlines and its valuable Sydney airport landing slots. Rival Qantas may respond with a higher offer.

Hazelton has the third largest slot allocation at Sydney, estimated at 450 per week. Under Sydney allocation rules, slots cannot be transferred from intrastate to trunk operations, but an interstate carrier which controls a regional can swap slots with the regional to maximise its capacity in peak periods, diverting the regional into off-peak operations.

Impulse, with Sydney's fourth largest allocation, has made a formal submission to the Australian Consumer Competition Commission, claiming slot manipulation is potentially anti-competitive.

Several regional centres are served by Hazelton and Ansett's wholly-owned Kendell Airlines, while Qantas-owned Eastern Australia Airlines overlaps with Hazelton at others. Impulse wants Sydney's movements raised from 80 to 120 per hour, but has been rebuffed by prime minister John Howard.

Ansett has acquired 20% of Hazelton, offering A$0.90 for remaining stock, valuing it $15.3 million. Qantas has also agreed to buy 20%, and offered $1.20 per share. Ansett's A$1.35 counterbid values Hazelton at $22.29 million, but Qantas could bid A$1.50.

Source: Flight International