01 January 2020

Crystal Ball Gazing for 2020

Happy New Year

A new year, a new decade!
3rd Level New Zealand wishes you and your whānau a fantastic year with great flying and great plane spotting opportunities.

And once again, the armchair plane nut speculates on what 2020 might bring on the domestic air service scene...

It's election year and Air New Zealand won't want to become a political football. After AIr New Zealand Paraparaumu the political outcry was intensive. I am sure they will not want to be a political football this year. In the more medium term I still think Air New Zealand wants to drop its smaller ports. So my read for 2020, no regional retrenchment this year.

Air New Zealand is currently running a trial Auckland-Invercargill Airbus 320 service. This has huge logistical issues for the airline and Invercargill airport. I understand it has been getting good support but wonder if it is sustainable for the longer term.

Meanwhile the ATR 72s seem to be full and that has meant more frequency which in turn clogs up the domestic aprons and air traffic flows at our our major domestic airports... Wellington being the prime example...  While it is unlikely, will Air New Zealand announce a discussion about a new regional jet??? It would be nice but apparently the accountants love the ATR!

They ditched their regional network last year... I think a status quo year for Jetstar.

Air Chathams retired two Convairs from the fleet last year and so the Convair replacement is becoming more urgent. The Chathams didn't get the tick for an extended runway for jet services. As the time is ticking for the Convairs I would expect another ATR or two. I still believe 737s will be added to the Air Chathams' fleet but not this year. With Saabs now being used on peak time Whakatāne services one wonders what will happen with the Metroliners. Masterton is a possibility for a new route. So my read for this year, Air Chathams will be mainly focused on a Convair replacement.

Barrier Air is going gangbusters with its three Cessna Grand Caravans and this is due, as I said last year, to some really dynamic leadership. Again, as I said last year, Barrier Air is an airline that is looking at initiatives and thinking carefully before it starts something new. Last year they ramped up their flight frequency to both Kaitaia and Great Barrier Island and their has been a real positive response from thee market. My read, watch this space for further development in 2020 perhaps in the form of a larger type or, if there was to be a new destination, my guess would be Whitianga.

Sounds Air is another really great operator with good leadership running a professional operation. Sounds Air added another Pilatus PC12 to its fleet late last year. The Blenheim-Napier service ends on 3 January 2020 and Sounds Air have indicated they will start a new route. Christchurch-Wanaka has been suggested in some quarters but would the PC-12 be the right machine for that for skiers and golfers? I would think Christchurch-Kapiti Coast would be a better option. They could also ramp up flights from Kapiti Coast to both Blenheim and Nelson. My read, definite development ahead in 2020.

Air Napier have been talking a lot about new routes and a new type, possibly a King Air. Napier-Hamilton, Napier-Tauranga, Napier-New Plymouth or Napier-Nelson with connections to Gisborne could be possibilities. But, it is a big step up to go turbine on lean routes. I think first they need to sort out in their own mind what they hope for the airline and start planning from there. A dedicated airline with a King Air would be a huge ask.

The Whangarei service ended, the Matamata/Hobbiton service has still to get airborne. Fly My Sky has tried valiantly but seems to have been left behind the competition. I do not see the BN Islander being a platform for moving ahead.

Sunair reintroduced their East Coast service connecting Gisborne with Hamilton, Tauranga or  Rotorua and also the Northland service connecting Whangarei with Hamilton or Tauranga. The East Coast service would seem to have the most potential. Flights from Tauranga and Whitianga to Great Barrier Island seem to be increasing in popularity. The Aztecs are starting to get a bit tired so maybe some exiting the fleet. Despite their age they are a good performer for what Sunair use them for. My read, no new developments likely.

Golden Bay Air is a niche operation and is not likely to grow unless they do a similar operation elsewhere. Kaikoura-Wellington would suit their model. My read, steady as she goes.

Stewart Island Flights fill a niche. They are experiencing solid numbers and Stewart Island is growing as a destination. With the runway at Stewart Island and the beach landings the BN Islander is a perfect fit. They probably need another BN Islander. Queenstown-Stewart Island might be a possibility for expansion but Queenstown-Stewart Island would be a long way in an Islander and as the airline operates VFR its not probably an option.

Much to my amazement Originair managed to get airborne again. Look to flights between Nelson and New Plymouth resuming. Nelson-Palmerston North morning and evening would probably work. Further expansion will require getting ZK-ECI back into their fleet. Nelson-Hamilton or Nelson-Tauranga might be possibilities but the unless the fares were reasonable they wouldn't get the passengers. So a return to where they were. My read is, don't hold your breath for New Plymouth-Napier to return.

Air Auckland seems to be more an air taxi. With the Navajo gone it is more clearly identifying itself as such. No real change is the prediction.


  1. Just FYI, when the AKL-IVC service launched, Air NZ stated that it was no longer a trial (so permanent).

  2. Thanks for that... I never picked up on that. Massive investment on the part of Air New Zealand and Invercargill City Council

    1. Yes I think they hired 16 new staff at IVC airport for the AKL service.

  3. My ball gazing...

    Under new CEO Air NZ will announce phase out of Q300 over 5 years, additional ATR72-600 to replace (long agruement but ATR can go anywhere the Q300 does, albeit restricted a little at times, but the Q300 is often restricted anyway) business case likely strong to having a single turboprop fleet.

    Sounds Air serious contender for TUO AKL flights, as too CHC HKK flights if air continues rationalising routes.

    Chats will gain additional Saab to replace metro, but no expansion. Formal interline with AIRNZ commence.

    Fly my Sky will wind down.

    Origin will add additional route and slowly start building a customer base.

    No changes with Barrier Air until Fly my sky goes, then they will source another Caravan.

    And as a hunch, not 3rd level but Tiger will start flying to Hamilton.

    1. Interesting... I think you are right that eventually Q300s will go and replaced with ATR 72s... With its runway length would the ATR be able to operate to Whangarei???

      TUO-AKL - Air Chathams a much better fit. Too much traffic for Sounds Air with their current fleet.

      CHC-HKK - that is an interesting one... All the ports Air NZ has pulled the plug on are only about 60-75 minutes drive from the next major port (with the exception of Westport). To pull out of the Coast would mean 180 minutes plus drive (more if they reduce the speed limits) on what can be challenging roads. That really isolates the region. For WSZ people the majority of traffic is to WLG; For WHK, WAG, PPQ the majority of traffic is to AKL. It is a different story with HKK - a lot of hospital traffic to CHC, a lot of traffic to WLG and a fair number heading to AKL. Any replacement would have to have an interline agreement with Air NZ... Any proposal to pull out of HKK will be a real political football!

      I would add TIU to your list.

      Interesting about Chats and Metros being replaced by Saabs. Chats are good at looking for work for their aeroplanes so I wouldn't discount more Saabs but I wouldn't bet on the Metros going. And if I was them I would be thinking hard how to serve future ports...

      From its take over of GBA Barrier Air showed it was not afraid of thinking outside the square but they didn't have the same level of professionalism in their management, right aircraft and attention to detail they have now. For example they tried a North Shore-Auckland International connection and Hamilton-Auckland... both were fizzers - With Auckland traffic the ideas were excellent but how to market the operations and make them work was the challenge. With their current management with an eye to innovation and commitment to a solid performance and service they are capable of pulling something out of the bag. So again, I keep watching Barrier Air with interest.

      Tiger to HLZ - very interesting. I am researching Kiwi, Freedom, Qantas and Pacific Blue services at present... HLZ was the loser as far as that goes... I still think they would get more traffic out of HLZ than DUD.

    2. I'm also researching such routes in detail. It seems DUD has had more consistent numbers over the years , with the current VA service pulling 75% lf average over the year

    3. Steve - With the merging of the Q300 and ATR fleets to operate under Air NZ's main operating certificate, it reinforces my belief that Air NZ regional will become an all ATR fleet.

      With ATR officially launching the ATR42-600S (short land/taking off) in October 2019 and considering the airline is currently the 3rd largest operator of ATR72's, I wouldn't be suprise that Air NZ will order at least 10 the ATR42-600S as the replacement for the Q300s, to cater for those airports who have short runways. It makes sense financially for Air NZ and would part of the airline's 'one aircraft type to suit market type' policy, to keep operating cost down.

      With regards to Hokitika and the Westport, ATR42-600S could be used for Hokitika and Westport.

      The Westland Regional Council can apply to PGF to have HKK upgraded for ATR72/ATR42 operations and WSZ upgraded for ATR42 operations ex Wellington and Christchurch.

      With regards to 'regional' jet services, that wouldn't happen due to warming planet. Turbo prop aircraft have a lower carbon foot print than jets.

    4. Last year a person in a good position within Air NZ and knowledge of the fleet replacements told me face to face that the Q300 fleet will start to be phased out from 2021 starting with the oldest 2nd hand aircraft. So correct but not this year?

  4. Interesting about the ATR 42-600S Kris... Whangarei woudl be the only port where it is an issue. Hokitika hasn't got the same runway length issues Whangarei has. Interestingly the Q300 to Hokitika is often full. It's not a huge step up from a 50 seater to a 66 seater and apparently the Q300 is way cheaper to operate than a Q300. At present a lot of West Coast locals prefer to drive to Christchurch as the Hokitika timetable doesn't suit them. If Air NZ did pull the plug on Hokitika - I don't think they will in the short term - I would like to see direct HKK-WLG and HKK-CHC flights.

    As for regional jets - we will have increasing issues of lack of gates at WLG in particular but also AKL and CHC

    My issue with the

  5. Air NZ will not pull the plug on HKK, as it does not want face the roth of the people and/or Shane Jones if he is still around.

    Whilst the Q300 may be cost effective as an aircraft type compared to the ATRs there are the hidden cost of the necessary cabin/flight crew, spares, engineering and logistics infrastructure to support the Q300 fleet. Whilst ATRs may be more expensive as an aircraft type, there no hidden costs of the necessary cabin/flight crew, spares, engineering and logistics infrastructure in operating an all ATR72/ATR42 regional fleet, which has over all cost savings, due to greater fleet and crew utilization. Air NZ has a policy to fine tune their fleet operations to get the maximum $$$ out for their fleets, so an ATR72/ATR42 operations would be the same as or possibility cheaper overall than have Q300s. Air NZ could sell their Q300 fleet to DHC, for reasonable price, as there is a demand for the Q300s globally, especially if DHC take their airframes back to zero hours and upgrade them to similar to the Q400.

    By upgrading HKK and WSZ it will future proof the West Coast for emergency airlifts in case of natural disasters other than the rupture of the alpine fault, as seen by the continual cutting of SH6. The North Canterbury earthquake in 2016 showed the issues of not having an airfield that was emergency airlift capable.

    Direct HKK/WSZ to WLG flights have alot merit, specially since Singapore Airlines are now using A350-900 between WLG/MEL which Air NZ has a deep co-sharing alliance with and its new alliance with Qantas for regional routes.

    It would be easy to do a CHC/HKK/WLG/CHC rotation using a ATR72 and a CHC/WSZ/WLG/WLZ/CHC or CHC/WSZ/WLG/HKK/CHC rotations using a ATR42-600S with NZ/SQ/QF/UA/AC/CA flight numbers and have timetables to suit international flights in/out of WLG or CHC.

    1. There wont be any more milk run flights too expensive for too little return. They will be too many empty seats on the WSZ to HKK sector etc.

    2. Jarden - I an not sure where you got the idea there will flights between WSZ and HKK.

    3. I can't see NZ returning to WSZ, especially post the closure of the Portland cement works and the increasing pressure on the coal extraction industry.

      Given to abundance of domestic connections from CHC, I can't see a HKK WLG sector working. NZ will know the level of WLG terminating traffic ex HKK, so would have given it a go by now if the demand was there.

      My pick is that NZ starts CHC WKA flights with the ATR, given the desire of QAC to get WKA up and running. Speaking of WKA. there is plenty of land to lengthen WKA to handle long range international flights (A350/B787).

    4. I agree - NZ won't return to WSZ...

      Not sure about NZ knowing what demand there is a for direct to WLG. Anyway, it won't be NZ who do it. When Air West Coast flew to WLG from GMZ they got good loads. There are a lot of West Coasters who drive to CHC or to WSZ to catch direct flights to WLG... Much cheaper and better times than NZ

      Interesting though about WKA. There are whispers someone is about to fly to WKA so wouldn't be surprised if NZ wants to get in ahead or early...

    5. ATR is too heavy to land on the current Wanaka runway. Plus there would be huge backlash from the local residents they are taking the airport to court to prevent flights from coming to the town.

    6. The Wanaka Stakeholders Group "welcomes the return of turboprop services to Wanaka". They mention the current ability of the airport to take Q300 services, so maybe watch this space. See https://protectwanaka.nz/q-a/

      The question is what are QAC's ultimate objectives - replicating current services through ZQN or something much grander?

  6. As I see it, it will be business as usual in most cases.

    - Air New Zealand

    It will be business as usual for the year as Greg Foran settles in as CEO. I hope there is no more cost cutting, as Christopher Luxon cost cutting can be seen by regular premium passengers. With integration of the Q300 and ATR fleets under Air NZ's air operating certificate, the fate of Q300s will be looked at over the next 12 months. I have a feeling that ATR has been in contact with Air NZ about replacing the Q300s with the ATR72-600S. I wouldn't be suprise that announcement of the fate of the Q300s will made towards the end of the year. ATR would like to have an order for 10-15 ATR42-600S from a carrier like Air NZ to give credibility for the ATR42-600S type.

    - Air Chathams

    I have always said that Air Chathams would be NZ's 2 level regional carrier. I wouldn't be suprise Air Chathams taking 3-4 additional ATR72-500s - 1 in full passenger configuration, 1 or 2 in combi or QC configuration and 1 or 2 in full freight configuration.

    Whilst Air Chathams have said they are looking at starting a route this year but I wouldn't be suprise to see another new route starting or announced within the year.

    - Jetstar NZ

    Business as usual for their domestic jet operations.

    - Sunair

    Business as usual

    - Barrier Air

    Business as usual

    - Stewart Island Flights

    Business as usual

    - Golden Bay Air

    Business as usual

    - Soundsair

    Business as usual. They are a conservative airline by sticking to what they can the do best.

    - Flymysky

    Not sure

    - Air Napier

    Not sure

    - Orginair

    I don't know. The airline is full of suprises.

    1. Agree with most. Air Chats though where are they going to find a Combi 72? To the best of my knowledge there has never been a ATR72 certified for Combi configuration and the costs of doing that for one or two aircraft would be astronomical. QC - maybe, but again I haven't heard of one so same cost issue applies.
      Most if not all manufacturers stopped offering Combis a couple of decades ago when the certification rules changed - something about really heavy and hard to move partitions to prevent the passengers getting squished by the cargo in a crash iirc.

    2. There are a few combis already in service around the world.

    3. I am aware of a few 42C's but not 72C's. Even if there are a few doubt Air Chats can afford to buy new and the handful out there are likely to command a premium price if and when they come onto the market. Realistically a pipe dream but who knows, maybe they will get lucky and snare one. But if they do it will be another orphan type in their fleet.

  7. My opinion is that there won't be much change from any airline. I think there is some uncertainty with regards to the global economy and tourism, so airlines will be VERY careful when it comes to investments in routes or aircraft.
    However, I do believe that Air NZ will seriously look at the ATR42 to replace the Q300's. It fits in with their simplified aircraft program (all A320 shorthaul, all boeing longhaul). Going all ATR regionally would reduced duplication and cut costs without slashing services.

    1. I agree with you.

    2. Why would you get atr42 when the 72 can do the job? Added complexity for what gain?

      The ATR72-600 can go anywhere currently serviced by airnz. (yes you may have to sell a few less seats ex WRE for example but the gains in a pure single fleet are significant).

      Some will argue that its a common rating, yes it probably is, but hasn't worked well for the 500 vs 600 which is technically the same type rating.

    3. Agreed. Hard to locate but if one can access the Air NZ annual reports of 2010, 2011 and 2012 in one of them there was a statement that Air NZ had committed to buy 11 ATR72-600s to replace the -500 fleet and had taken long term options on 25 ATR42-600s. At the time the commentary was that it was the long term replacement fleet for the then 21 Q300s.
      Anyone know if those options still exist or were they converted into 72s?

  8. The ATR42 seats around 50 vs the 72's almost 70 passengers. The 72 requires 2 flight attendants vs the 42's 1. So already you're saving money by having one less crew member on the 42.
    Plus it will be difficult to fill 70 seats from many smaller airports/thinner routes. Why fly a heavier plane around (with an extra crew member and requiring more fuel) half empty? It would be financial suicide.

    1. And the flight attendants are paid peanuts.....

      The 2 sectors in question are probably wreakl and hkkchc, (maybe tiuwlg) can 2/3 20min flights justify an additional type?

  9. I've spoken to an Air Chathams F/O and she told me that the issues with the Convairs has been fixed and they can be operated by Air Chats for as long as needed, therefore a replacement is not required like everyone thinks.

    1. You are correct that the OPERATING issue with the CV580s that would have grounded them in April - the lack of a bullet proof cockpit door - has been fixed in CIB and CIE. As KFL is operated as a freighter presumably it didn't apply to it.
      However go back a couple of years on this blog site and you will see the stated reason Air Chats bought the Air Freight fleet was to provide enough spare parts to keep the fleet flying until retirement in 2020. Spare parts must be becoming very difficult and therefore expensive to find. Probably the reason CIF was discarded ahead of time because the cost of repair exceeded benefit. CIF was in the hanger to "ready her for the summer season" (Air Chats spin on why MCO was doing WAG over the winter). The real question is how long they can afford to keep them going as spares become more expensive and more difficult to find. An engineering and financial issue, not one a F/O would know anything about.

    2. Very true actually, so they likely will still be retired this year. A bit scary to think about, then again if that means this year we see a 737-300 based in NZ again that'll be amazing!

    3. KFL and CIE are the suspect ones given what happened to KFH and CIF in 2019. The summer after Air Chats started WAG CIB owned the hangar for almost 5 months while they did what I suspect was a D check. The Air Chats comment afterwards was that a lot of corrosion was removed from her. It is the corroded parts that are likely to be the issue in terms of finding and affording replacements so CIB imho is likely to have more time left than the other two.
      Given the Govt inaction on runway extension / rebuild at the Chathams can't see a B737 being likely for 3 - 4 years - it would take at least that long from planning approval to task completion and buying it just for Norfolk would not make financial sense for one return flight a week. None of their other destinations could handle a B733 never mind actually need it.