Australia Refuses Singapore Airline Access to Route

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) - The Australian government on Wednesday denied Singapore Airlines Ltd. access to the lucrative trans-Pacific route between Australia and the United States, now shared by Qantas and United.

Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson discussed with Singapore's Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan the airline's long-standing request to service the route directly.

Australia's flagship airline, Qantas Airways Ltd., currently controls 75 percent of the market share on the route, from which it derives around 15 percent of its net profit.

Qantas, which employees over 35,000 people in Australia, shares the route only with U.S. carrier United Airlines, a unite of the Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based UAL Corp.

Seeking to defuse Australian concerns that Qantas would suffer under increased competition, Singapore Airlines executives argued that allowing the airline to fly between Australia's east coast and the U.S. West coast would increase passenger traffic.

Australian officials were not persuaded.

''The issue of trans-Pacific access has been considered at the highest levels by the Australian government, which has decided the time is not right for Singapore Airlines to be granted access to the route,'' said Paul Chamberlin, a spokesman for Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson.

Singapore Airlines expressed disappointment in the decision, but said it would continue to push its case to open ''one of the world's most protected air routes.''

''The losers from this delay will be the traveling public and the Australian tourism industry, both of which will be further denied the benefits of competition,'' the airline said in a statement.

Australia and free trade partner Singapore deepened bilateral aviation links in 2003, but stopped short of an open-skies agreement that would have given Singapore Airlines access to the trans-Pacific route.