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Air NZ to pay $50m to settle US lawsuit

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 8/05/2016 Jonathan Underhill

Air New Zealand has agreed to pay $US35 million ($NZ51.17 million) to settle a class-action lawsuit in the US.

It was taken by freight forwarding companies who claimed airlines colluded over cargo fuel and security surcharges between 2000 and 2006.

The national carrier was one of only two airlines still holding out in the suit, along with Air India, after 26 airlines cut settlement deals totalling $US1.19 billion.

Hearings were set to begin in September, having been postponed in January after several airlines settled.

Air New Zealand's settlement, reached through mediation on May 7, is subject to approval by a court in New York.

The airline agreed to settle "rather than take the risk of a potentially very material commercial liability by continuing to defend its position", it said.

It hasn't admitted being part of the alleged conspiracy as part of the settlement.

"This is purely a question of mitigating an unacceptable risk created by the US class action system which creates enormous pressure to settle such matters commercially," said John Blair, Air New Zealand's general counsel.

"There was no credible evidence that any Air New Zealand employee participated in any conspiracy, but the potential for an unexpected verdict was not an acceptable commercial risk for the airline."

The claim was filed in 2006 on behalf of six freight forwarders and has been led by global litigation firm Hausfeld.

Qantas is among airlines to have settled, paying $US26.5m, while Korean Air made the biggest settlement at $US115m.

The plaintiffs estimate damages at about $US2.66b, which would triple to as much as $US7.98b under US antitrust laws.

The alleged price-fixing has been the subject of antitrust actions around the globe, with big settlements from multi-national airlines in Europe and the US.

In New Zealand, the Commerce Commission reached settlements with 11 carriers, including Air New Zealand, securing penalties totalling $45m, or about 10 per cent of the revenue generated from air freight forwarding services in and out of New Zealand in 2006.

Air New Zealand said the settlement cost wasn't reflected in the company's guidance for 2016 earnings to exceed $800m.

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