QANTAS will begin selling fares for flights on its new network with Emirates within weeks after the competition regulator allowed the airlines to begin laying the ground work for their tie-up.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has decided to allow Qantas and Emirates to start implementing their alliance because of the "long lead time required to market and sell tickets before the commencement of long-haul services".
However, the regulator has not allowed them to begin early preparations on the trans-Tasman route, after it raised concerns last month about the impact on flights between Australia and New Zealand.
The airlines still require final approval - expected in March - for their alliance from the regulator. Last month the ACCC gave tentative approval for the tie-up, which is focused on routes between Australia and Europe.
The regulator granted "interim authorisation" on Thursday, allowing the airlines to begin discussions on joint sales and pricing strategy, system integration and testing, customer handling, joint marketing, and scheduling and capacity coordination.
"Under interim authorisation, the applicants will be able to commence activities that will enhance the product and service offerings to Qantas and Emirates customers," the chairman of ACCC, Rod Sims, said. "In making its decision, the ACCC has accepted written assurances from the parties that should the ACCC ultimately decide not to allow the alliance to go ahead, the airlines will accommodate consumers' bookings."
Qantas said fares on a combined network with Emirates were expected to be available in the coming weeks once discussions on pricing had taken place. They would be for travel from April.
After ditching in October their request for "interim authorisation", the airlines reapplied last month after the regulator gave tentative approval for their deal.
The proposed tie-up covers routes from Australia to Europe, north Africa, the Middle East, Asia and New Zealand. It will result in Qantas shifting its hub for European flights from Singapore to Dubai.
The ACCC gave tentative approval to the alliance because it was likely to lead to "material, although not substantial" benefits to consumers.
But in that draft decision the regulator indicated it intends to reject the two airlines' request for anti-trust approval to be granted for a decade, deciding half that time frame is more appropriate.
Aspects of the deal still needs approval from regulators in New Zealand and Singapore.
New Zealand's Transport Minister, Gerry Brownlee, will decide whether the two airlines can extend their alliance to the trans-Tasman route.