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Skywest bailout emerges

A CONSORTIUM of private business people has emerged as a potential saviour of failed Ansett Australia’s regional subsidiary Skywest.

Headed by former Skywest chairman Bill Meeke, the group of local businessmen claims to have secured support from an undisclosed merchant bank to back up a multi-million dollar bid for the regional airline.

Whether or not the group would face any competitive bids is unclear, but Skippers Aviation boss Stan Quinlivan has ruled his company out of contention for Skywest.

Mr Quinlivan’s local air charter operation has enjoyed significant demand in the wake of the Ansett failure.

It also is uncertain just how cashed up Skippers is, but the company sold its major stake in NSW regional player Hazelton Airlines to Ansett less than six months ago in a deal that could have been worth at least $5 million.

Mr Meeke told Business News he expected the Ansett administrators, newly installed Andersen, to want more than $20 million for Skywest.

“There are five large aircraft that carry 46 passengers each … aircraft values are very volatile because of what’s going on in the US, so it’s very hard to put a value on it,” he said.

“It depends on the asking price of the existing assets.

“It will probably be in the vicinity of between $20 and $30 million.”

The consortium is made up of both local and regional business people who are keen to see Skywest restored as a local operation.

“Skywest is still managed out of Perth, its got its own administration in Perth and its own chief engineers. It’s really not part of Ansett,” Mr Meeke said.

The investors were meeting WA Government representatives to discuss how the consortium’s bid fits in with State’s best interests.

Mr Meeke said the consortium sought his advice on the airline based on his previous experience with the company.

‘I was with Skywest for 14 years. I left in 1994 and in fact most of the management is still the same. A few Ansett people have come and gone,” he said.

Skippers Aviation has picked up a substantial proportion of the flights to rural and mining areas of WA previously serviced by Skywest but Mr Quinlivan said he had no plans to pick over the wreckage of Ansett.

A year ago Skippers held a 25 per cent stake in Hazelton, 4.3 million shares that would have been worth almost $7 million at the $1.60-a-share price, which Ansett offered to shareholders six months ago.

In addition to stranding thousands of travellers all over Australia, the decision to ground Ansett has had a profound effect on the local tourism industry, including accommodation.

Hotel & Leisure Advisory managing director Alan Boys claims the soft local accommodation market will further weaken with the collapse of Ansett.

Mr Boys claims that, as a remote destination, WA is reliant on competitive and high frequency air access.

“The change to having one domestic airline dominating the market is of great concern,” Mr Boys said.

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