Australia says Qantas to stay 51 pct locally owned
Reuters - Tuesday, December 2
CANBERRA, Dec 2 - Qantas Airways Ltd <QAN.AX> will remain majority Australian-owned and Singapore Airlines <SIAL.SI> will stay shut out of lucrative Australia-U.S. routes under a new government aviation blueprint.
A discussion paper for the industry, to be released on Tuesday by the government, would keep the existing cap on foreign ownership of Qantas at 49 percent, Transport Minister Anthony Albanese told state radio.
"The 51 percent Australian ownership is maintained under the Qantas act. We think there should be a level playing field apart from that," Albanese said.
The Australian newspaper said the proposals also include removing a 25 percent limit on individual foreign shareholdings in Qantas and a 35 percent total limit on foreign airlines' holdings in the carrier, making consolidation easier for Qantas.
The Australian also said the discussion paper, which outlines government thinking ahead of a policy paper to be released next year, will reiterate the government's opposition to granting third-party access to routes between Australia and the United States, one of the world's most protected airlinks.
Singapore Airlines, the world's largest by market value, has been pushing for access to the route as it seeks new markets to help offset competition from low-cost carriers in Asia.
It estimates opening the Pacific route to more competition could increase the number of travellers between the United States and Australia by up to 8 percent.
A 2006 report for Singapore Airlines said Qantas charged 38 percent more for flights from Sydney to Los Angeles than on the competitive route from Sydney to London.
United Airlines <UAUA.O> is currently the sole competitor to Qantas in non-stop flights to the U.S. West Coast. Local carrier Virgin Blue's <VBA.AX> V Australia unit will begin flights on the route in February.
The paper also rejects calls for foreign carriers to be allowed to operate Australian domestic routes, The Australian said.
Albanese said he would not be opposed to one foreign airline buying 49 percent of Qantas, the world's 10th largest airline by market value, which has slashed jobs to combat the economic downturn.
"We think that essentially is a commercial decision for Qantas," Albanese said.
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