Virgin Blue undecided on capacity to NZ

Friday, 11 July 2003 - Stuff

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Richard Branson's Virgin Blue Airlines has won approval to fly to New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu, although it has not decided on its trans-Tasman capacity yet.

Brisbane-based Virgin Blue said today it received clearance from the International Air Services Commission to operate unlimited services to New Zealand.

Virgin Blue spokeswoman Amanda Bolger told NZPA the airline had not narrowed down details yet.

"Today's decision to grant permission is another step in quite a lengthy process, so it's not a huge revelation where we can announce we'll fly from Auckland or Wellington at this date.

"But it is certainly a step forward in this process," she said.

The discount flier is jockeying for capacity across the Tasman and criticised the proposed deal between Air New Zealand and Qantas Airways as anti-competitive.

"We're going to go to New Zealand regardless of what that decision is, it just will depend on the capacity which we can provide competition," Ms Bolger said.

"Obviously if the (competition authorities') decision goes against us, we won't be able to offer the competitive environment that we can in Australia."

Virgin Blue did not specify the potential capacity across the Tasman, although it said it can offer 1260 seats a week to Fiji and 720 seats a week to Vanuatu.

The company plans to launch international flights by the end of the year.

Rival Qantas is trying to win approval from anti-competition regulators in Australia and New Zealand for a plan to buy a 22.5 percent stake in Air NZ.

The two airlines have made concessions to their proposed alliance, initially blocked by both regulators as "anti-competitive".

Air NZ shares closed up 1c at 52 cents, while Qantas shares fell 2c to $A3.32 ($NZ3.74).