- Thousands left without flights
- 300 Air Australia staff stood down
- Company unable to pay for fuel
- Questions about when the company went broke
- No flights in the 'short to medium term'
- Turbulence that brought down an airline
- No way home as passengers wait on news
- Matt O'Sullivan's analysis: Customers jettisoned again
It will take days for the 4000 people stranded by the collapse of Brisbane-based budget carrier Air Australia to make their own way home. The airline went into administration today.
Many passengers will arrive over the weekend but even with Qantas, Jetstar and other airlines helping out, some are unlikely to make it back until early in the week.
Administrators say they will work through the weekend to try to find a "white knight" to save the airline.
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Most of the airline's 300 staff have been stood down as about 4000 passengers were left to search for alternative flights on their own as administrators probe the possibility that the company was trading while insolvent.
The airline has sold about 100,000 tickets for future flights that are unlikely to take off.
Rudd's office trying to help
Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd said his office was working with consulates around the world to help stranded passengers.
"We are deeply concerned about the implications for the Australian travelling public," he said.
"I've asked the Australian foreign affairs and relevant posts around the world, not just Honolulu, not just Bangkok but elsewhere to provide every form of consular assistance possible.
"We have been advised by Qantas that those who are affected by this dispute by the actions of Air Australia, should present themselves to the local Qantas desk at the relevant airports and Qantas have indicated to us that they will do everything possible to make it feasible for people to get back to Australia."
There was also chaos at Phuket airport today as passengers queued to try to get on alternative flights, crammed internet cafes and waited outside the offices of Air Australia's local agent for an explanation.
Many passengers were paying more than $1000 for flights to Singapore.
At least two international flights bound for Melbourne - from Phuket and Honolulu - were grounded after they were refused fuel.
Five domestic flights between Brisbane to Melbourne today were also cancelled.
Unable to refuel: KordaMentha
Administrator Mark Korda of KordaMentha said the crisis came when the airline was unable to refuel its aircraft.
Mr Korda said flights were suspended at 1.30am after the company was unable to pay for fuel for a Melbourne-bound flight departing from Phuket.
"Late last night, the airline was unable to have an aircraft in Phuket refuelled," he said.
"They owed the supplier of fuel money, and needed to buy fuel, so the supplier would not supply fuel."
He said it was possible this meant the aircraft was being held at Phuket airport until the airline was able to pay its bills.
"It's likely there would be charges outstanding to [Phuket] airport but I don't have that information."
"The supplier of fuel wouldn't extend them any more credit," he said.
"Our priority at the moment is to deal with the suspended operations and all the passengers and staff.
"Our second priority is to see if we can get the business sold or find a white knight and the third thing we do is [conduct] our investigation."
KordaMentha directed stranded passengers to contact other airlines immediately to try to reschedule their flights. Phuket is packed with visitors at the moment - the height of the tourist season.
"It currently appears that there are no funds available to meet operational expenses so flights will be suspended immediately," KordaMentha said in a statement on the airline's website.
"For clarity, it also appears highly unlikely there will be any flights in the short to medium term."
Mr Korda said there were about 4000 passengers whose flights would be grounded today as a result of the airline's collapse.
Mr Korda could not rule out whether or not the airline was trading while insolvent - or taking bookings and conducting business when management was aware the company was going under.
"It's part of our duty to do an investigation into that," he said.
Gillard appeals to administrators
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has called on Air Australia administrators to do everything they can to make sure stranded Australians get home.
"My immediate concern today is not only for the working people caught up in this circumstance but also the passengers," she told reporters in Canberra this afternoon.
Ms Gillard would not say whether or not the government was considering providing chartered aircraft to fly stranded passengers home.
She praised Qantas and Jetstar for "stepping in and stepping up" with additional seats but added that this didn't mean administrators should "down tools".
Ms Gillard also endorsed a move by Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten to refer reports of Air Australia workers being paid $90 a day to the Fair Work Ombudsman.
Director yet to comment
The director of Air Australia, Michael James, was this morning not answering the door at his $1.25 million house in Birkdale, in Brisbane's east.
He is yet to comment on the company going into voluntary administration.
The Brisbane-based carrier was previously known as Strategic Airlines and relaunched under the Air Australia banner in November 2011. It ran flights on domestic routes and to Bali, Honolulu and Phuket.
A push to reinvent the airline as a "boutique carrier" failed and statements lodged with the financial regulator a year ago show it was under pressure. It is owned by Strategic Aviation Group.
In 2010, Strategic's charter arm lost a $30 million-a-year Defence Department contract to carry Australian troops and military cargo to Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
Mr James, a 35-year-old former Ansett employee, became the group's sole shareholder last February after Melbourne businessman Shaun Aisen severed his ties with both the commercial airline and charter business.
Qantas offers help
Today, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce - who yesterday announced 500 jobs would go as part of a review of his company's operations - offered to try to help stuck travellers.
"Jetstar is looking at adding supplementary services to help those passengers," Mr Joyce told the Seven Network. He said Qantas would also try to run extra flights.
"If the [Air Australia] passengers come to a Qantas desk, a Jestar desk, show their ticket, we'll give them a ticket for the same value they've paid with Air Australia, so they don't have to pay any more and they can try and recover that fare from their travel agencies or their credit card suppliers," he said.
Virgin Australia offered stranded passengers one-way fares from Denpasar to Australia for $US199 excluding baggage for flights until March 2.
That came as Hawaiian Airlines offered one-way, $300 rescue fares for Air Australia ticket-holders on Sydney-Honolulu flights until March 1. AirAsia X also offered assistance, saying stranded passengers in Phuket and Bali who could make their way to Kuala Lumpur would pay only for the taxes and charges of their flights back to Australia.
And discounts website Scoopon, which sold more than 2000 tickets for travel on the Melbourne-Phuket route, has sent a customer services representative to the Thai airport to assist stranded passengers. It has also set up a help page.
KordaMentha said passengers who bought tickets on a credit card, or those with travel insurance that covered insolvency, should be able to get their money back.
A Melbourne Airport spokeswoman said a Honolulu flight due to arrive in Melbourne at 5.25pm had also been grounded.
"All Air Australia flights have been cancelled," the spokeswoman said.
In a statement on its website, the company says the director of the Air Australia group of companies appointed John Park and Mr Korda of KordaMentha as voluntary administrators today.
Mr Korda told 3AW he had been monitoring the situation last night when there were troubles with supplier fuel.
He said that he would know after the weekend what state the airline was in.
Mr Korda oversaw Australia's largest ever administration - of Ansett airlines - with partner Mark Mentha.
Hundreds of passengers were stranded for days on Phuket last year after a mechanical failure on one of the company's planes.
Melbourne to Brisbane (11.20am, 5.45pm)
Brisbane to Melbourne (9.40am, 10.40am, 5pm)
Melbourne to Phuket (11.25am)
Melbourne to Honolulu (7pm)
Phuket to Melbourne (8.25am)
Honolulu to Melbourne (5.25am)
- with AAP, Lindsay Murdoch, Bridie Jabour and Judith Ireland
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