Anorexic Ansett limps back to the skies with 5 planes


Austalia's troubled carrier Ansett took to the air again two weeks after its collapse, an anorexic version of what used to be the country's second domestic airline with just five planes flying.

Only a third of seats on the first 24 flights between Australia's two main cities, Sydney and Melbourne, were booked despite steep discounts but Ansett Mark II said it was not concerned about posting an initial loss.

"The early flights are very full, which says to us that the business traveller is back to Ansett," Mark Mentha of administrators Andersen said.

As recriminations continued to swirl around the abandonment of Ansett by its parent Air New Zealand, the Australian Financial Review reported that Prime Minister John Howard "ruthlessly" scuppered a plan that might have saved it.

The newspaper said Howard, who is expected to call a general election any day now, overrode senior ministers who were in favour of an offer put forward by Singapore Airlines to recapitalise Air NZ and its troubled Australian subsidiary.

Determined that the domestic air industry should be kept in Australian hands, Howard bowed to lobbying from the national carrier Qantas Airways, which feared that Singapore Airlines would have the clout to muscle it out.

There was no immediate comment from the government, which has repeatedly rejected any responsibility for the collapse of the airline that once controlled 40 per cent of domestic air travel.

Ansett's tentative return to the airways on September 29 was greeted with fanfare and celebrations among its 16,000 staff, around 1,500 of whom were expected to be reemployed.