primus plan all hot air

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    Airship advertising plan was just hot air, Primus claims
    By Leonie Wood
    May 27 2002

    In early 2000, as world sharemarkets rolled with the hype of the telecommunications and technology boom, the fledgling carrier Primus Telecommunications decided it had to lift its profile.

    It had prime sponsorship at the Collingwood Football Club, some billboards around town, and word-of-mouth recommendations that helped open doors at small businesses all over Australia.

    But Primus' marketing department that January spied another opportunity of a different sort. An airship. A great big balloon, piloted and filled with hot air, that would waft across Sydney during the biggest event Australia had ever seen - the Sydney 2000 Olympics.

    Blazoned on its sides would be fibre-optic screens capable of screening videos or giant colour advertisements.

    CCP Australian Airships, a company whose directors included Bendigo solicitor Doug Cahill and Melbourne-based Rob Palmer, told Primus' executives that the airship, adorned with Primus logos and livery, could be seen all over Sydney by millions of people during the Games in mid-September.

    It must have seemed like a chance to get into that blue-sky stuff all the other telcos talked about.

    So on March 7, 2000, Primus' officials signed a lease to use the airship for promotional purposes for 12 months from September 1. The total cost would be $3.25 million, payable in monthly instalments, and Primus on that day slapped down a cheque for what CCP Airships said was a non-refundable deposit of $400,000.

    But Primus is now suing CCP Airships for the $400,000 plus unspecified damages, and claims CCP and its directors breached the Trade Practices Act by engaging in what it claims was false, misleading and deceptive conduct.

    In documents filed with the Victorian Supreme Court, CCP Airships not only hotly disputes the claim, it is counter-claiming, saying it suffered loss and damage. It claims Primus prematurely terminated the lease agreement and it wants payment of at least $1.37 million, being the estimated net profit CCP would have derived from the Primus lease contract over 12 months.

    The airship was to be a 138S model built by US-LTA Corp of Oregon. CCP Airships would buy the aircraft and bring it to Australia, but CCP claims it warned Primus that with just six months to go before the Games began, the timetable was a little tight.

    Over the next few months, at about the same time as investors pricked the bubble of the telco boom and all that hot air began to seep out, Primus stayed in touch with CCP Airships.

    But on July 19, 2000, with just two months to go before the Games, CCP's solicitors allegedly told Primus that it could not come through with the goods by September, or in fact at all, because the airship had not been built and CCP could not fund its completion.

    CCP Airships claims Primus was aware, or should have been aware, that CCP did not own the airship when Primus paid the deposit, and that CCP was looking for other investors to help finance the purchase of the airship. CCP Airships also said it paid the US manufacturer $US150,000 ($A269,880) as a holding deposit while CCP tried to raise more funds.

    The case is scheduled for trial in the Victorian Supreme Court in mid-July.

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