07 June 2018

Queenstown Changes

Air New Zealand has introduced new Wellington business day flights to the delight of Queenstown businesses, but placed restrictions on the Christchurch route. The changes included two new return daily flights from Queenstown to Wellington on jets. However, the first flight of the day from Queenstown to Christchurch was changed from a jet to a smaller turboprop ATR. The turboprops are more likely to be cancelled in adverse weather conditions as they are not equipped with Required Navigation Performance (RNP) technology. Two years ago the company announced it would install RNP on its ATR fleet by 2018, but regional affairs manager Ian Collier said there had been "technical and regulatory" hold ups. "We will certainly be ready next winter. That should help with problems on the first flight to Christchurch in winter." It was a challenge for the company to get the right mix of aircraft on every route, Collier said. "The reality is the aircraft mix we've got is not going to give us the perfect answer this winter and it will be weather dependent ... For every move we make we get a corresponding groan from somewhere." The company announced the changes at a Queenstown Chamber of Commerce get-together on Wednesday night. Queenstown Chamber of Commerce chief executive Anne Lockhart said the organisation had lobbied for four years for a Wellington schedule that allowed people to fly to and from the capital at either end of the business day. The loss of a jet to Christchurch in winter was "a step back ... but I totally understand." She urged Air NZ to continue putting a "foot on the accelerator", but also to keep working to meet the infrastructure needs of communities who were struggling to cope with growth in visitor numbers. "Not all growth is good. Someone has to pay for it ... Our message to central Government continues to be [that we need] a contribution from that very large visitor market." Collier said the company was "heavily engaged" in that ongoing conversation. "The quicker we can move on it the better to ensure there's a fair system in place to address the issues we all have."  Air NZ general manager of networks Kate O'Brien said there would be increased capacity on trans-Tasman routes into Queenstown following the end of the Air NZ-Virigin Australia alliance in late October. Air NZ would re-enter the Brisbane to Queenstown route with flights three or four times a week and retain its Melbourne route. Virgin Australia would enter the Melbourne to Queenstown market and retain Brisbane. "So there will be 28 per cent capacity growth into Melbourne and nearly 60 per cent into Brisbane coming this year," she said. Collier said the company was looking at options for flying a Wanaka to Auckland route. "We would like to do it but the priority is consultation with the community and that's something being led by the airport at the moment." Air NZ was looking ahead at long term forecasts based on Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment figures that put visitor arrivals at 4.5 million a year by 2022, he said. "We are currently ahead of that [growth rate]. We are doing everything we can to make sure we are match fit and more than ready for that. We're not taking our foot off the accelerator. We're here to grow."

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