News: Corrigan puts spoke in Ansett wheel

Old Feb 11, 02, 10:09 am
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News: Corrigan puts spoke in Ansett wheel

Corrigan puts spoke in Ansett wheel
Geoff Easdown and Fleur Anderson

THE Ansett rescue plan was under threat from a new quarter last night in the form of waterfront reformer Chris Corrigan.

Mr Corrigan's Patrick Corporation is unimpressed at having been sidelined from secret talks that could decide the future of Ansett Mark II and Virgin Blue Airlines.

The revelations came as Ansett suitor Tesna yesterday appeared increasingly likely to allow its competitor Virgin Blue access to Ansett's terminal space for a price, after resolving a key sticking point in talks with Sydney Airport Corporation.

The move was also seen as the removal of a potential stumbling block in a merger between Ansett and Virgin Blue.

But the Patrick boss reminded Virgin Blue of the deal they had to share in any carve-up of Ansett assets and that the agreement had been lodged with the Stock Exchange.

The Lindsay Fox-Solomon Lew backed Tesna and Virgin Blue yesterday confirmed for the first time that they were in negotiations and said talks would continue in Australia for the rest of the week.

But the two groups would not say whether the talks would lead to a merger which would return Australia to an airline duopoly.

Sir Richard Branson, in London late yesterday, said "a further meeting between the principals was held on Sunday which was again very constructive".

But in an earlier statement Sir Richard referred to reports that Tesna would buy out Virgin Blue as "absolute bollocks".

A continuing row over the transfer of the lease to the Sydney Airport terminal has delayed the sale of Ansett Mark II to Tesna.

Sydney Airport Corporation Limited spokesman Peter Gibbs said it had encouraged Tesna to allow third party access to parts of the terminal it did not wish to use itself.

"This is no longer a sticking point," Mr Gibbs said, although he added that "a couple" of other concerns still stood in the way of sealing the Sydney Airport deal.

"If they enter into an agreement with Virgin Blue, that is a matter between themselves and Virgin Blue.

"They can only do that after the assignment of the lease."

Sydney Airport Corporation, which controls the Ansett terminal lease, is believed to want a multimillion-dollar transfer fee to agree to Tesna taking over the terminal lease held by the administrators of the cash-strapped carrier.

And it is understood the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission would have few grounds for opposition to a Virgin-Ansett merger given Qantas's overwhelming market dominance.

An ACCC spokeswoman said Virgin and Tesna had not approached the competition watchdog with a "solid agreement" although it had been in contact with all parties for some time.

Patrick said it was sure Virgin Blue would be mindful of the agreement during the talks with Tesn
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