Australia Bids Farewell to Ansett

SYDNEY, Australia -- Flight attendants and pilots of failed Ansett airlines bid a tearful and emotional farewell to Australia's No. 2 carrier on Monday as its planes took to the skies for the last time.

Ansett has criss-crossed the continent for 66 years, but its final flight was scheduled to take off from Perth at 11:45 p.m., bound for Sydney, having failed to secure a buyer.

Hopes the carrier would be salvaged were dashed last week when would-be buyers, Melbourne millionaires Lindsay Fox and Solomon Lew, walked away from the loss-making airline after months of negotiations.

Around 3,000 of the 16,000 staff originally employed by Ansett before it was placed into administration by former parent Air New Zealand in September had hoped to find work with a new owner, but many now face unemployment.

Flight attendant Robyn Musker, a single mother with two children, wept as she told Sky News: "It's all too much."

Trying to put a bright face on the situation, some flight crews serenaded passengers or donned yellow aircraft life jackets to pose next to Ansett planes for final snapshots.

At Ansett's near-deserted Sydney Airport terminal, staff fastened their uniforms to the plate glass windows with stickers, urging people to "Save Ansett as Howard won't," in reference to Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

Removal trucks lined up outside to empty the terminal's closed shops and outlets.

Staff were due to gather in the airline's Golden Wing lounges around the country later in the day for poignant "wakes," which would try to raise funds for hardship appeals launched by unions for workers who face a long wait for full payouts.

"It'll probably be the last chance they'll get to see each other for a period of time, so it's a matter of joint commiserations," said an Ansett spokesman.

The collapse of Ansett leaves Australian aviation in the iron grip of Qantas Airways Ltd., which dominates more than 80 percent of the 10 billion Australian dollar ($5.2 billion) market and has sparked worries that air fares could rise.

Qantas and Richard Branson's discount carrier Virgin Blue, a small but aggressive competitor, are expected to start picking over the Ansett carcass as administrators sell off assets in a bid to salvage enough capital to cover workers entitlements.

Virgin Blue said it would look to employ up to 1,000 Ansett staff, but many of the airline's Airbus pilots doubt their chances of being re-employed by Qantas, which flies mostly Boeing Co. aircraft.

Overseas job opportunities also are thin on the ground after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States dealt a sharp blow to the global aviation industry.

"A lot of people were driven by ego, by self interest and greed, and in the end it was the airline that paid the price," Bob Ansett, son of the airline's founder Sir Reginald Ansett, told ABC Radio.