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Waiting in the wings for air deal

A NEW player has emerged in the regional aviation market as airlines try to adjust to a significantly altered landscape following the collapse of Ansett.

Local operator Great Western Aviation has applied for an upgrade on its current air-operator certificate to a regular public trans-port licence, or RPT.

If the RPT licence is granted it will allow Great Western Aviation to operate aircraft with more than 36 seats, opening doors to new opportunities in the crowded tourism market.

Until now, Great Western Aviation has operated almost exclusively in the mining and resource sector.

Neither the Civil Aviation Safety Authority nor Great Western Aviation were prepared to comment on the application.

Great Western Aviation managing director Bob Ballantine said he was un-able to discuss the matter, as it could affect the outcome of the application.

“We are in the process of an upgrade of the licence,” he said.

Industry sources have expressed surprise at the timing of the move in light of the collapse of Ansett, Qantas’ increased role in the regional market and the imminent arrival of Virgin Blue.

Currently, Great Western Aviation is operating just two 19-seat aircraft.

“There was some talk of Western Airlines joining Great Western Aviation … but everyone is just waiting for Skywest,” an industry spokesperson said.

The Ansett administrators received a number of bids for Skywest, including from Kerry Stokes’ WesTrac, Qantas and the ABN AMRO bid, which was put together by former Skywest chairman Bill Meeke.

Skippers Aviation boss Stan Quinlivan, who previously ruled himself out of contention, said Skippers had withdrawn a bid for Skywest ahead of last Friday’s deadline.

“We did have a bid in but we wanted to get rid of too many staff, so we withdrew it,” Mr Quinlivan said.

Bids for Skywest, which turned a profit of $1.75 million last year, were expected to reach as much as $30 million.

The interest in Skywest has been overshadowed by jousting over the remains of its former parent Ansett, which collapsed two months ago.

A bid by Lindsay Fox and Solomon Lew for Ansett was threatened by the potential for a rival offer by Lang Corp and Virgin Blue.

Meanwhile, the need for Federal Government funding for any new owner was fading as the administrators came close to a deal.

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