Australian competition watchdog may deny Virgin FIFO deal


The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said it may deny authorisation to an extension of a Charter Alliance Agreement between Virgin Australia Airlines, Virgin Australia Regional Airlines (VARA) (together Virgin Australia) and Alliance Aviation Services and Alliance Airlines.

“At this stage, the ACCC is not satisfied that the public benefits likely to result from the Charter Alliance Agreement in the next five years will outweigh the public detriment that is likely to result from VARA and Alliance Airlines coordinating their fly-in fly-out (FIFO) services,” said ACCC Deputy Chair Mick Keogh.

The Charter Alliance Agreement enables Virgin Australia and Alliance Airlines to cooperate, coordinate and jointly bid for, and provide, FIFO and value-added services to corporate customers.

“The proposed extension of the Charter Alliance Agreement would continue to eliminate competition between VARA and Alliance Airlines in providing FIFO services to corporate customers,” Keogh said.

In May 2017, the ACCC granted authorisation for the Charter Alliance Agreement for a period of five years.

“The ACCC seeks further submissions to assist it to understand whether the public benefits claimed to result from the agreement by the applicants five years ago have actually been realised, and also how market conditions have changed in that time. This will help to inform our forward-looking assessment of the likely public benefits and detriments,” Keogh said. “At present, the ACCC is not satisfied that the public benefits claimed to arise from combining Virgin Australia’s charter fleet and national regular passenger network with Alliance Airlines’ national charter network are likely to result from the extension of the agreement to the extent claimed by the applicants.”

The ACCC accepts that the Charter Alliance Agreement is likely to result in some operational efficiencies, such as integrating VARA’s and Alliance Airlines’ equipment and fleets, and enhanced services such as access to frequent flyer programs. “It is unclear whether the likely benefits are sufficiently significant to outweigh the anti-competitive detriment, and whether they will be substantially passed through to or realised by customers,” Keogh said. “The ACCC wishes to test the public benefit claims made by the applicants further, particularly with FIFO customers. The test for authorisation requires that the ACCC must not grant authorisation unless it is satisfied in all the circumstances that the proposed conduct would result in a benefit to the public that would outweigh the likely detriment to the public from the proposed conduct,” Keogh said.

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