THE flying kangaroo, symbol of Australia's national airline carrier, is putting its gloves on. The soon-to-be-privatised Qantas airlines may not go as far as re-painting its tail with the boxing kangaroo, but the intentions are clear. The object of ire is rival Australian airline Ansett which has just launched two new Asian routes including Hong Kong. Ansett has effectively stamped all over a patch Qantas considers its own private domain, and the arrival in the territory last week of a flaming red Qantas 747-400 swathed in Aboriginal designs signalled it does not plan to take the incursion lightly. The Qantas flight - which turned out to be something of a publicity coup for the airline - touched down at Kai Tak just days before Ansett's inaugural flight to Hong Kong. Less than a week before, the 747 made its maiden trip in its new coat to Japan, the only other destination of Ansett in Asia. It was hardly a coincidence. Qantas is not taking its position for granted despite its vastly superior size as an international carrier. Ansett is the minnow of the fleet in the Hong Kong-Australia run compared with Qantas and Cathay Pacific. Its three flights a week on two 747-300s leased from Singapore Airlines, increasing to five times a week by April next year, will still give Ansett only 12 per cent of the market with Qantas and Cathay holding the lion's share of the rest. But Qantas has no intention of ignoring its smaller rival. The man at the helm of Qantas, new chief executive James Strong, has grown up in the industry locked in a fight with Ansett for control of Australia's domestic airways. Mr Strong was formerly in charge of Australian Airlines, the government-owned carrier which together with Ansett held a duopoly on the market for decades. Deregulation in the 1980s introduced competition which has allowed Ansett to establish itself as the pre-eminent player with a 55 per cent share of passengers. Australian has since been absorbed by Qantas - all its planes now carry the flying kangaroo - in preparation for privatisation but competition on the highly profitable domestic routes is growing stronger. '[Mr] Strong has bought an Australian Airlines philosophy to Qantas and sees Ansett as his arch rival. He will go blow-for-blow with Ansett anywhere,' said Peter Harbison, managing director of Sydney-based consultancy BWD Aviation Services. A series of high-profile poaching operations involving senior members of both airlines has done nothing to soften feelings. Most recently, Ansett lured across two of Qantas' senior Asian players to head up its new operations. Alan Locke, general manager of Ansett International's Orient operations, and marketing manager Rob Mills were both long-time Qantas executives operating in the Asian market. Its strategy is, for the moment, cautious. Despite initially holding the rights to fly to Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore it decided to launch just in Osaka (Japan), and Hong Kong. 'We will obviously be looking at the other routes but not straight away,' said Mr Locke. As far as selling the airline to the public, Ansett has chosen service as its weapon rather than fares, an area in which it puts itself head-to-head with Cathay. ANSETT claims to offer the world's biggest pitch (the distance between the seats) of 80 inches in its 12-seat first class section while business is 50 inches compared with 40 inches on some other carriers. Fares correspond roughly with Qantas and Cathay on the routes although Ansett is dwarfed by the number of flights offered by its rivals. According to Mr Locke, the airline is looking for a load factor of about 55 per cent in the first year compared with an industry average of about 68 per pent. Start-up costs are about A$50 million (HK$287.5 million) although the airline expects to break even by next year on its international routes. BWD's Mr Harbison does not expect rapid expansion in the region soon. 'They are taking a flexible approach but I think in five years' time you will see them taking a bigger presence in the region,' he said. Meanwhile, Rick Coyle, Hong Kong-based regional general manager for Qantas, is also not taking the opposition lightly. 'They have a presence. It is not significant at this particular point in time but by the same token we are going to respond to anything they are planning.'