Wellington, July 16 NZPA - Air New Zealand advised the stock exchange it had not bought any shares in airline Virgin Blue but its statement, made in response to media reports, did not rule out such a move.
A Sydney Morning Herald report today said the move was seen as a way for this country's national carrier to cement its relationship with Virgin Blue.
Two months ago the two airlines announced they intended to seek regulatory approval to create an alliance on trans-Tasman operations, saying the proposed alliance would allow them to collaborate on future route and product planning, code sharing and frequent flyer programme benefits.
Today Air New Zealand said it was conscious that airline alliances such as the one planned with Virgin Blue frequently included an equity aspect, but the proposed alliance did not do so.
The necessary regulatory approvals for the trans-Tasman alliance were still in process and it had received no indication of the outcome of that decision, Air New Zealand said.
A final decision on the alliance was expected by the end of the year.
Air New Zealand appeared to leave open the possibility of taking a stake in Virgin Blue at some point. Its announcement said that in the event of any such investment it would advise the market in accordance with market disclosure obligations.
Any such purchase would require Foreign Investment Review Board approval in accordance with Australian policy on foreign investment due to the substantial ownership of Air New Zealand by the New Zealand Government, Air New Zealand said.
The SMH reported aviation industry sources had said Air New Zealand wanted to buy up to 15 percent of Virgin Blue, after the airlines appeared to have won indicative support from regulators for the proposed joint venture on services between New Zealand and Australia.
A strategic stake was seen as giving Air New Zealand a foot in the door for the next wave of consolidation in the aviation industry, which was emerging from one of its worst downturns. Virgin Blue and Qantas were often seen as likely candidates in the longer term for tie-ups with airlines in the burgeoning Asian market.
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