14 June 2020

The National Carrier's Hamilton International Service

Air New Zealand took over Freedom Air's international services to Hamilton on the 31st of March 2009. This was the first time the national carrier had flown international services through Hamilton and these trans-Tasman services were only to last for 13 months. On the day of the take over Air New Zealand was operating eight weekly flights to and from Hamilton, three flights per week to Sydney, two flights per week to Coolangatta, and three flights per week to Brisbane. 

In June 2009 Air New Zealand realised it had to respond to the continued high cost of fuel and changes in demand. This included fare increases and timetable changes. Air New Zealand's Chief Executive Officer Rob Fyfe said, “As a small, nimble operator we have the benefit of being able to quickly adjust schedules to maintain a cost effective operation that ensures capacity meets current demand in the markets we serve. We are not immune to changes in demand and sky-rocketing fuel costs.” To that end Air New Zealand made a number of tactical network changes which included reducing the number of flights between Hamilton and Sydney will reduce from three to two per week between August and November 2009.

On the 6th of October 2009 Air New Zealand announced it would suspend services between Hamilton and Sydney and the Gold Coast during the traditionally lower demand period from the 29th of March to the 24th of October 2009. In addition to this the flights from Hamilton to Brisbane were to be reduced from three flights a week to two flights a week due to weak demand and an oversupply of trans-Tasman capacity from Auckland. Air New Zealand's General Manager for the Tasman and Pacific, Glen Sowry, said, “This decision is part of Air New Zealand’s ongoing review of its network to ensure we operate a sustainable business through the current global economic downturn which is seeing airlines suffer, and in many cases fail, the world over. We certainly regret having to suspend the three times per week service to Sydney and twice a week service to the Gold Coast. However, with poor load factors, equally poor yield and high fuel costs, we cannot afford to fly routes that lose money in the current economic environment. “Quite simply, Waikato residents are not travelling like they used to, or are choosing to travel through Auckland Airport. The Hamilton – Sydney route for example has operated less than half full over the past six months. That’s the equivalent of operating more than 60 empty A320 flights on the Sydney route alone. “Efforts to stimulate demand with significantly lower average fares compared to the rest of the Tasman network have not had the required affect. “In addition, the glut in trans-Tasman capacity from Auckland is cannibalising the Hamilton services as many of those travelling to Australia from the Waikato appear to be flying from Auckland.”

The announcement came as a major blow for the Hamilton International Airport which had recently upgraded its airport terminal. The Waikato Times revealed at the weekend international passengers numbers were down 15.8 percent (a reduction from 104,000 to 87,000) for the year to June 30.  

However, even before the Coolangata and Sydney flights were suspended more news came. On the 30th of January 2009 Air New Zealand announced it was axing all its trans-Tasman flights out of Hamilton from the 25th of April 2009. Airline general manager for Tasman Pacific, Glen Sowry said Air New Zealand "regretted having to suspend the service" but weak demand meant it was no longer viable. An "oversupply" of trans-Tasman flights from Auckland was having a direct impact on the Hamilton services. This "oversupply" that Sowry mentioned will get even worse for the airline from next Monday, when Emirates Airline's latest plane will start flying into Auckland. Because it is much larger than Emirates' existing planes an extra 1200 seats a week will be added to the hotly-contested Tasman route. It has allowed it to offer Sydney return including taxes for less than $300. Sowry said the airline's Hamilton-Brisbane service was "suffering from poor load factors and equally poor yield. "Loadings on our Hamilton-Brisbane service have averaged 58 per cent over the past three months. In that time, we have flown the equivalent of 32 empty A320 aircraft between Hamilton and Brisbane. That is clearly unsustainable, and in the current environment we cannot afford to fly routes that make substantial losses with no forecast improvement." The yield earned by the airline on the flights was also poor, with 94 per cent of fares sold being low earning sale or "smart saver" fares. "Recent improvements to the road between Hamilton and Auckland also appear to be encouraging Waikato residents to drive to Auckland to take their Tasman flights. This has been compounded by a massive increase in competition on Tasman services out of Auckland with additional low cost carrier capacity and new wide-body capacity, creating an incredibly competitive market and great deals for the travelling public."

One local official called for a ban on Air New Zealand, accusing Air New Zealand of "manipulating a decline" in the Waikato market by cutting flights down to two a week from a peak of 15, making travel from Hamilton less convenient, and offering cheaper flights from Auckland. "If the airline had any commitment whatsoever to the region it would have offered those same low fares in the regional market." The Air New Zealand website offers Brisbane airfares out of Auckland at $200 lower per return flight, a cut of 35 per cent.

Air New Zealand responded saying that the average fare out of Hamilton had been lower than for any other Tasman port. "Ninety four per cent of seats sold out of Hamilton were sale fares or lowest level smart saver. The number of cheap seats was considerably higher than cheap seats out of any other transtasman port."

Air New Zealand Airbus 320 ZK-OJM at Hamilton in 2011... The photo is 'borrowed' from Awesome in NZ's Flickr page, see https://www.flickr.com/photos/49222841@N06/. If you know who Awesome in NZ is and how to contact him can you let me know.

The following week the Waikato Times reported that Air New Zealand had cancelled 11 of its remaining flights between Sydney and Hamilton. While Air New Zealand still claims to operate two return services a week between Hamilton and Sydney, Waikato Times inquiries found the scheduled Air New Zealand return service between Hamilton and Sydney will not operate on February 9 and 23 and March 23 and 27. And Sydney to Hamilton sector flights have been cancelled on February 13 and 20, and March 13. That is a total of 11 flights. An airline spokeswoman said the cancellations were due either to "unplanned capacity reduction" or amendments to the Tasman schedule. She said the decision to amend the schedule was determined in part by low bookings from Hamilton a less than 10 per cent booked load factor (fewer than 15 customers) on the cancelled services.

The final Air New Zealand international services to Hamilton were operated on the 30th of April 2012

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