Airport loses some Tasman services
The New Zealand airline situation has been fluid for many years. A Qantas Dash-8, long departed from the service, shares the Dunedin apron with an Air New Zealand Boeing 737.
Dunedin has lost its only flights to Sydney and Melbourne with Virgin Australia’s announcement it will no longer be flying to those cities in the coming summer. For some time Virgin has conducted a twice-weekly jet service to Sydney and Melbourne and return over the peak holiday period of December–January.
The termination of those services comes as a surprise to Dunedin International Airport CEO John McCall, who says there has been a “strong demand” for flights to both cities over the holiday period. He quoted year-on-year increases of Melbourne 16 percent and Sydney six percent.
The service has been conducted for several years as part of the alliance between Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand, with passengers flying to Melbourne or Sydney on both airlines’ aircraft. In 2010, when the alliance was approved, Air New Zealand ceased its flights from Dunedin to Brisbane as well as Melbourne and Sydney.
Virgin Australia does not dispute the figures produced by Dunedin International Airport but spokesman for the airline, Luke O’Donnell, says the two routes have been cancelled “based on performance”. He says his company had to consider passenger demand on all of its routes and had concluded that the aircraft flown from Dunedin to Sydney and Melbourne would be more profitable on other routes.
While Jetstar and the Virgin Australia/Air New Zealand alliance will continue to fly to and from Brisbane four times a week, the loss of the Melbourne and Sydney flights means, according to Dunedin International Airport, potentially 12,700 passenger seats over the holiday period.
International flights from Dunedin have declined since the signing and approval of the alliance. One of the conditions of the approval was that there would be no reduction in the number of seats on the Brisbane–Dunedin route.
The Melbourne and Sydney sectors were not included in the approval, despite strong representations from Dunedin International Airport and other southern interests.
First the Air New Zealand flights to Melbourne and Sydney stopped and now Virgin Australia has followed suit. The announcement coincided with a visit to Dunedin by Jetstar’s New Zealand chief executive, Grant Kerr, and the airline’s flying operations manager, Richard Falkner.
Grant says his company, which presently has a domestic presence in Dunedin with scheduled flights to and from Auckland, will certainly be considering taking up the two summer direct flights to be vacated by Virgin Australia.
However, he emphasises that this would happen only if the routes proved to be economically viable. He confirms his company has no intention of increasing its domestic flights from Dunedin to any other destination than Auckland.
At present the market for big jets is quite soft, and it has been known for some time that Jetstar is buying new aircraft in this favourable market. Commercial aircraft not in service quickly lose their value, and it may well be in Jetstar’s interest to schedule these new airliners on the two direct trans-Tasman flights.
In the meantime, the airline is heavily involved in increasing its presence into Queenstown and this year will have 16,000 extra seats into the southern resort for the winter sports season.
Jetstar has made no secret of the fact that it sees trans-Tasman flights between Melbourne/Sydney and
Queenstown as being the best earner for its New Zealand operations.
Queenstown now has about 50 direct trans-Tasman weekly flights this winter as the resort is becoming increasingly popular with affluent young Australians on the east coast of the continent. Queenstown has gained five extra services a week to and from Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney for the July–September period, when the region’s winter sports are operating and there are few days when it is not possible to ski or snowboard.
If the Queenstown Airport Corporation and the airlines can agree on a system of trans-Tasman night flights over the next two years, this current strong demand for flights into Queenstown should increase significantly.
- Report by John King, photograph supplied.
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