Wed, Nov 20, 2013 - Page 15 News List

Qantas fighting against ‘foreign takeover’ of rival

AFP, SYDNEY

Qantas launched an online campaign yesterday to lobby the Australian government against the “foreign takeover” of the nation’s skies caused by increased overseas investment in rival Virgin Australia.

Qantas chief executive officer Alan Joyce has demanded Canberra halt a capital raising by Virgin Australia, which is already 63 percent owned by Singapore Airlines, Air New Zealand and Abu Dhabi-based Etihad. He says it will destabilize Qantas, charging that the A$350 million (US$328 million) raised by its main domestic rival could boost foreign ownership in Virgin Australia to up to 80 percent.

“No other country on Earth would passively allow such a foreign takeover to happen,” Joyce wrote in a memo to staff cited by the Sydney Daily Telegraph.

“If you feel as strongly as I do, I encourage you to make your voice heard as well. Write a letter to your local federal representative. Make a phone call. Speak up on social media,” the memo said.

The memo was followed by an online petition — fairgo4qantas — which has so far attracted more than 5,000 signatures to support its campaign.

“As Qantas staff and supporters of Qantas, we are proud of our airline and we know that in any fair fight we will come out on top,” it says.

“However the unfair playing field in Australian aviation is a risk to the future of Qantas and all our jobs. We must not let three foreign, government-backed airlines take control of Virgin and ruin the Australian aviation industry for which we have fought so hard,” it says.

Virgin Australia said that it has worked hard to build its business, saying the landscape of Australian aviation had changed forever and was no longer a monopoly.

However, Joyce said Virgin had been losing money for months, driven by a strategy of setting uncompetitively low prices to win customers from Qantas.

“With the benefit of unlimited sovereign funds — including the recent injection of a further [A]$300 million — Virgin can set prices below a competitive level simply because, unlike us, they don’t need to make a profit,” he said.

Under the Qantas Sale Act, enacted when the airline was privatized in 1995, foreign ownership in the national carrier is limited to 49 percent.

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