The Qantas takeover bid is literally going backwards — and so it should be given the unprecedented profit bonanza the airline is enjoying.

Airlines Partners Australia today revealed that another 30 million shares have been withdrawn from the institutional acceptance facility, so its Qantas stake has fallen from 28.86% to 27.48%.

The Qantas board has an obligation to maximise returns for Qantas shareholders, yet with each passing day it becomes clearer that the airline bosses are underplaying the airline’s prospects at a time of record profits. The lounges are full and you can barely get a seat with Qantas as a worldwide travel boom coincides with an acute capacity shortfall.

The Virgin Blue update for March 2007 yesterday is just the latest in a growing dossier of evidence. Passenger numbers soared 12% over March 2006, and because capacity was only up 3.5%, the total yield soared from 75.1% to a stunning 80.7%.

The Age’s Stephen Bartholomeusz is still talking today as if Airline Partners Australia is a chance to get 100%. They’ve got Buckley’s and the lowered 70% minimum acceptance threshold is now also looking very dicey.

Why should shareholders sell to the Macquarie Bank consortium at a multiple of less than 10 times 2007 EBITDA when Macquarie Communications Infrastructure Group have just paid 20 times and 17.5 times respectively in shelling out more than $10 billion on two UK businesses, albeit with monopoly characteristics?

The Qantas board should be pointing this out. It’s time to withdraw the board’s recommendation.

The position of James Packer in this scenario is fascinating. Packer is very close to Macquarie Bank’s leading deal-maker, Nicholas Moore. The two of them have just splashed $1.5 billion buying nine casinos in Canada.

Qantas chairwoman Margaret Jackson is a serial networker who thought it would be good to recruit Packer to the Qantas board, but he’s far from independent on this takeover, being one of the 20 largest shareholders in Macquarie Bank.

Shares in the Millionaire Factory are poised for a record close of almost $88 tonight, which means Packer’s personal stake is now worth $66 million.

C’mon James, you might own less than $300,000 worth of Qantas shares, but it’s time to think about those fiduciary responsibilities. Break ranks, son. Tell the market that the situation has changed, Qantas is booming, the sharemarket is up 10% since the APA bid was launched, and $5.45 is no longer adequate.

You’ll look a lot sillier if you don’t because this takeover ain’t going anywhere at $5.45.