Paul Phelan/CAIRNS

Qantas has entered the bidding for Air New Zealand (ANZ) in a move that has thrown the make-up of the Australasian air transport system into doubt, but which could result in Singapore Airlines (SIA) reversing the failure of its bid for Ansett Australia.

Meanwhile, Ansett New Zealand has been bought by a group of New Zealand investors as the consolidation of the region's airline industry accelerates.

Qantas aims to buy 49% of ANZ, exploiting a breakdown in talks between the latter and SIA, which wants to buy up to 40%. ANZ's largest shareholder, Brierley Investments (BIL), responded to the new moves by withdrawing its 47% stake from sale.

Qantas chief executive James Strong confirms his airline has talked to BIL. He says a purchase would require Ansett Australia - being taken over by Auckland-based ANZ - to be sold, to satisfy competition requirements.

This could allow SIA to move in for Ansett, in which the Asian carrier tried to take a 50% stake from News Corporation, only to see the holding snapped up by ANZ (which had first refusal), taking its stake to 100%. SIA then targeted ANZ, but it could be content with a major holding in Ansett, granting it a big slice of the Australian market.

BIL says its "first priority is to ensure that ANZ successfully moves to full ownership of Ansett Holdings", but adds that, although it has withdrawn its stake in New Zealand carrier from sale, it remains "of the view that ultimately ANZ would benefit from having a strategic relationship with another airline through its share register". BIL adds that SIA remains "the preferred strategic bidder".

The Australian Consumer Competition Commission says it would not oppose a Qantas bid for ANZ. The proposed purchase would require changes to restrictions on foreign investment in ANZ and Qantas on both sides of the Tasman: current rules limit such holdings to 25%.

The sale of Ansett New Zealand to private and institutional investors led by Auckland bank Clavell Capital has severed News Corp's aviation links.

Source: Flight International