12 July 2020

Pacific Blue - Oh Happy Flying

On the 17th of September 2003 Australian airline Virgin Blue’s Chief Executive Brett Godfrey arrived in Christchurch in “a bright red jet” to announce the launch of a new international division, Pacific Blue Airlines. Pacific Blue Airlines (Australia) Pty Ltd was (a wholly owned subsidiary of Virgin Blue Holdings Pty Ltd) which was to be based in Christchurch.

There were a number of reasons Christchurch was chosen as the new airline’s base. The new airline was promised a $1 million per annum marketing campaign provided by local interests provided the visitor numbers grew. The airport company gave the new airline good terms and Air New Zealand’s maintenance facility was another important drawcard. Finally, a New Zealand based operator operating under local aviation regulations meant the less cabin crew and salary costs compared with an Australian-based airline.

The new low fare carrier was to be Christchurch-based and aimed to commence daily services between Christchurch and Brisbane on the 1st of February 2004. It also had plans to expand trans-Tasman services as well offering domestic services within New Zealand. Brett Godfrey announced that Pacific Blue would launch its maiden service with a fleet of bright red, brand new Boeing 737-800 aircraft, emblazoned with flypacificblue.com on their side. The aircraft are fresh from the Boeing factory in Seattle and will carry the most modern technology in the South Pacific as well as 180 leather seats pitched to 31” or more. When introducing the new name Mr Godfrey joked, “In order to get overseas we had to sacrifice the Virgin. But we haven’t given up a thing when it comes to our tradition of great service, modern aircraft and everyday low fares. This is a proud brand that we hope to fly throughout the Pacific region.”

Before Pacific Blue’s first flight had got airborne, it announced further new services, from Christchurch to Melbourne from the 4th of March and daily direct flights between both Christchurch and Wellington to Sydney from the 10th of March 2004. Pacific Blue CEO Tony Marks said, “While there may be plenty of trans-Tasman competition to Auckland, until now Wellington has been largely overlooked and trapped in an airline duopoly.”

Ahead of the start of the scheduled services Boeing 737-8FE VH-VOO arrived in Christchurch on the 13th of January 2004 and was registered as ZK-PBA on the 23rd. Scheduled services commenced on the 29th of January 2004 when Boeing 737-800, ZK-PBA, Bonnie Blue, operated flight DJ7 from Christchurch to Brisbane and the return flight DJ8. 

Pacific Blue's first Boeing 737-800 ZK-PBA at Auckland on 25 November 2009

A second Boeing 737, ZK-PBC, Missy Mainlander, arrived in Christchurch on the 28th of February 2004 entering service on the 10th of March. Flights from Christchurch to Melbourne commenced on the 4th of March and to Sydney on the 10th of March. On the same day services began between Sydney and Wellington. At the launch of the new Sydney services, Pacific Blue’s CEO Tony Marks said, “We are confident the expansion of Pacific Blue services will get more people travelling between the two countries, and this can only be good for everyone. We are certainly giving the other carriers a bit of a run for their money. David Huttner, who was the head of Virgin Blue Strategy and Communications said “Until now, only Auckland had real competition instead of a cosy duopoly. Since Pacific Blue announced its intentions we’ve seen Qantas increase capacity on Christchurch and Air New Zealand increase capacity on Wellington. Pacific Blue is proud of its role as a catalyst in ensuring that these two key cities are finally benefiting from high quality, low fare services across the Tasman.” 

Pacific Blue's Boeing 737-800 ZK-PBJ arrives into Christchurch on 7 May 2004

In August 2004 another Boeing 737-800, ZK-PBD, Pacific Pearl, was added to the fleet. It was used for the first time on the 19th of August carrying passengers from Christchurch to Wellington from a weather disruption the previous evening. It entered full service on the 6th of September. 

ZK-PBD at Auckland on 25 July 2010

In September 2004 Pacific Blue ventured further out into the Pacific. On the 9th of September thrice weekly flights commenced from Brisbane to Nadi with ZK-PBC doing the honours for the first flights, and the following day from thrice weekly flights commenced between Melbourne and Nadi. On the 20th of September weekly flights began from Melbourne to Port Vila, Vanuatu, and from Brisbane to Port Vila the following day. These international flights were offered by Pacific Blue Airlines (Australia) Pty Ltd and operated by Pacific Blue Airlines (NZ) Ltd which were wholly owned subsidiaries of Virgin Blue Holdings Ltd.

A twice weekly service began Christchurch and the Gold Coast began on the 2nd of November 2004. The airline identified the need for direct flights from the Gold Coast to Christchurch due to the large number of people flying between Brisbane and Christchurch then driving to and from the Gold Coast. Twice weekly flights were also introduced between Wellington and Brisbane in early November 2004. The first flight from Brisbane to Wellington was operated on the 1st and the first Wellington to Brisbane service was operated on the 2nd.

Another Boeing 737-800, ZK-PBB, Whitney Sundays, was added to the fleet on the 5th of February 2005. A week later Boeing 737-8BK ZK-PBC was withdrawn from service on the 13th and it went back to Virgin Blue as VH-VOX. VH-VOX retained its Pacific Blue titles and over the following years would it would regularly appear back in New Zealand skies operating Pacific Blue services.

ZK-PBB lined up for departure on Runway 02 at Christchurch on 9 May 2005

The re-registered ZK-PBC as VH-VOX at Auckland on 15 June 2010

Pacific Blue’s first cut back came on the 1st of April 2005 when its five times a week service between Wellington to Sydney was axed. Another retrenchment followed from the 10th of May with flights between Melbourne and Port Vila being cut.

Auckland was added to the Pacific Blue network on in May 2005 with flights being offered to and from Brisbane and the Gold Coast. The first flight from Brisbane was operated on the 12th of May with the first flight to Brisbane operating the following day. The first flights to and from Coolangata were operated on the 14th of May. Pacific Blue CEO, Tony Marks said, “Tomorrow’s flight will be another great milestone in our relatively short history. We’ve had our eye on Auckland as a Pacific Blue destination for some time and it’s an exciting market for us. We may be a small player in the trans-Tasman market but we are enthusiastic about taking on the big guns in their own backyard and giving Pacific Blue travellers another route option.” Boeing 737-800 ZK-PBD operated the first Auckland services. By this stage the international flights to and from New Zealand were operated by Pacific Blue Airlines (NZ) Ltd while international flights to Fiji, Vanuatu and the Cook Islands were offered by Pacific Blue Airlines (Aust) Pty Ltd and operated by Pacific Blue Airlines (NZ) Ltd.

Pacific Blue - the airline that promoted happy flying!

Rarotonga in the Cook Islands was added to the Pacific Blue network on the 19th of May when the airline started a weekly service from Sydney to Rarotonga via Christchurch. Virgin Blue Chief Executive Brett Godfrey said the launch of flights to the Cook Islands was a further step in spreading the carrier’s service through the Pacific. “The Cook Islands is a magnificent destination and we look forward to helping the Cooks benefit from the increased competition that a new carrier brings after being an aviation monopoly for far too long.” The inaugural flight departed Sydney on the 19th of May, stopped in Christchurch and then flew on to Rarotonga arriving on the 18th having crossed the international date line.

On the 27th of June 2005 Pacific Blue began a route between Sydney and Nadi, Fiji. Then, in late 2005 Pacific Blue added Tonga as its next Pacific destination. Thrice weekly flights from Auckland to Tonga’s Fua’amotu airport and twice weekly flights from Sydney commenced on the 31st of October 2005. Pacific Blue CEO, Tony Marks said, “We are really looking forward to expanding our network to include Tonga. On Monday, Pacific Blue will be the first airline to make Tonga an affordable destination. While we are the first low cost carrier to this market, the effect Pacific Blue have had on prices is already evident, with our competition rushing to copy our lead. That’s the kind of impact Pacific Blue has on a market.”

Also on the 31st of October 2005. Virgin Blue launched a new joint venture airline, “Polynesian Blue.” Polynesian Blue was a partnership between Virgin Blue and the Samoan Government. A thrice weekly service was offered between Sydney and Apia with four flights a week between Auckland and Apia. Polynesian Blue also used a Boeing 737-800, ZK-PBF, Tapu’itea. The inaugural flight was also the unveiling of the Polynesian Blue livery – “a trademark red aircraft body with a palm tree on the tail, a Samoan maiden painting and the name Polynesian Blue proudly emblazoned on its fuselage.” Brett Godfrey, Virgin Blue’s CEO, said, “This is the third airline we have launched in the past five years and we are confident Polynesian Blue will be successful in luring more travellers to experience unspoilt Samoa. We are delighted to have the opportunity to join the Government of Samoa in Polynesian Blue and we look forward to contributing to Samoa's tourism effort." Polynesian Blue flights will be operated by Pacific Blue Airlines, ensuring the services are run efficiently and economically, in line with the low cost carrier strategy and cost base. The Polynesian Blue Boeing was also regularly used to operate Pacific Blue other flights. 

The Polynesian Blue Boeing 737-800 ZK-PBF at Auckland on 5 August 2008

On the 1st of November 2005 Pacific Blue started twice-weekly flights between Auckland and Rarotonga.

On the 23rd of August 2007 Virgin Blue Airlines and subsidiary Pacific Blue announced major plans for its own domestic services in New Zealand with $39 launch fares on sale for the new service was to commence on the 15th of November. The company’s start up plans were for New Zealand’s key trunk routes, namely 5 daily flights between Auckland and Wellington, twice daily flights between Auckland and Christchurch and three daily flights between Wellington and Christchurch. Virgin Blue Group of Airlines Chief Executive, Brett Godfrey, said, “The decision was not taken lightly as it is a major investment and a long term commitment to keeping the “air fair” in New Zealand. The time is right to bring some much needed competition to the existing duopolistic market and we are excited to be opening up new travel opportunities for both the people of New Zealand as well as inbound tourists.” Virgin Group Chairman, Sir Richard Branson said, "I am absolutely delighted to announce that Pacific Blue will soon be shaking up the New Zealand domestic market and bringing its unmistakable fun, flair and affordability to travel within New Zealand. I enjoyed a wonderful trip to New Zealand earlier this year, where I saw first hand the great enthusiasm and support for Pacific Blue. I am thrilled that we can further enhance our commitment to the local market with the launch of our domestic operations. We look forward to Pacific Blue spreading its wings and bringing long term domestic bliss, perhaps not for the competition, but certainly for locals and visitors travelling within New Zealand."

Two further Boeing 737-800s were added to the fleet to facilitate the domestic operation, ZK-PBG, Bewitching Broome, and ZK-PBJ, Billie Blue. Both aircraft entered service on the 8th of November.

Pacific Blue’s domestic services started on the 12th of November 2007. ZK-PBG operated the first service from Auckland to Wellington at 7am, while ZK-PBJ started with a Christchurch to Wellington service leaving 15 minutes later.

The two Boeing 737-800s that were acquired for the domestic services... above ZK-PBG and below ZK-PBJ at Wellington on 16 November 2007

The Aviation Historical Society journal Aerolog gave an outline of what the two domestic service Boeings operated each weekday.



Dunedin was added to Pacific Blue’s domestic network on the 1st of July 2008. A daily return service was operated between Christchurch and Dunedin with Auckland and Wellington connections made at Christchurch. The first flight , which was operated by ZK-PBB, was met by a tartan-themed celebration at Dunedin International Airport featuring bagpipes, highland dancers, a 35-strong school kapa haka group, and guests from the Dunedin business and tourism communities. The aircraft even become an honorary Dunedin “scarfie” for a few moments after it landed when a specially made 15-metre blue-and-gold Otago scarf was tied under its fuselage.

In July 2008 Pacific Blue introduced a new domestic baggage charge of $8 for 23kg. In a media statement Air New Zealand alleged that Pacific Blue’s new domestic baggage charge of $8 for 23kg would make it more expensive for travellers to fly. Pacific Blue rejected this, labelling Air New Zealand media release as the work of a “Perennial Pinocchio” once again trying to pull the wool over consumers' eyes by claiming it offers value for money when the exact opposite is true. "Really they should stop wasting their time on PR spin, smoke and mirrors and put some effort into fair competition, rather than a poor attempt to mislead air travellers," Pacific Blue General Manager, Commercial, Adrian Hamilton-Manns said. “What a load of rubbish, a simple price comparison between us dispels this claim. For example, Pacific Blue is offering fares on its midday Auckland-Wellington service tomorrow for $65.95 one way. Air New Zealand is charging $348 for a flight that is departing at the same time. You'd have to carry a helluva lot of baggage to be worse off than paying Air New Zealand's fare! With Air New Zealand you can pay $348 to get from Auckland to Wellington or with us you can pay $65.95. With our new charge then the price would be $73.95 if you had 23 kg of baggage. Does Air NZ really think Kiwis can’t see who is really ripping off customers?” asks Mr Hamilton-Manns. “Before Pacific Blue brought competition to the market the joke was that Air New Zealand’s slogan was not “Amazing journeys. Every day.” but “Amazingly expensive journeys. Every day.” said Mr Hamilton-Manns. They really don’t seem to like competing with a true low-fare carrier.” “This is yet another move from the established bully boy to try and harm us. Well, it won’t work.”

Three more Boeing 737-800s entered the fleet in 2008. ZK-PBK, Maiden New Zealand, entered service on the 9th of August 2008. The following month ZK-PBL, Canterbury Belle, entered service on the 2nd of September 2008. ZK-PBL was only in service for some 7 months before being transferred to Virgin Blue as VH-VUQ but it returned to the Pacific Blue fleet as ZK-PBL in March 2010. The third, ZK-PBM, Kiwi Ana, entered service in October 2008.

Pacific Blue's ZK-PBK arriving on Runway 29 on Christchurch on 6 July 2013 

Daily Auckland to Melbourne flights were introduced on the 22nd of September 2008 and nine flight a week were added between Auckland a Sydney from the 14th of October 2008. Moving beyond the Tasman routes, Pacific Blue (Australia) commenced operating three new routes, a twice weekly Sydney-Port Vila route on the 16th of October 2008, a four times a week service between Brisbane and Port Moresby, Papua and New Guinea on the 3rd of November 2008 and a twice weekly service between Brisbane and Honiara in the Solomon Islands on the 2nd of December 2008.

2009 say the development of the New Zealand market. On the 3rd of June 2009 Pacific Blue announced it would reintroduce international flights to Hamilton. At the media launch in Hamilton the airline announced it will be offering six direct flights from Hamilton to Australia each week – three flights to Sydney and three to Brisbane. The new services were launched at a special function at Hamilton Airport that featured Pacific Blue crew in Waikato rugby jerseys, airport staff in red t-shirts, and the clanging of cowbells. Virgin Blue Group CEO Brett Godfrey said although times were tough the airline was always on the lookout to enter new markets where the business case stacked up. “Our strategy is always to look for markets that are under-served. As Hamilton currently has no international services in place, it was an obvious opportunity for us,” he said. “The region has a track record of supporting low-fare airlines and we look forward to welcoming the people from Waikato, Bay of Plenty and further afield on board when Pacific Blue flights begin in September.” On the 31st of August a Boeing 737 positioned to Hamilton from Auckland with a low-level fly over of Tauranga and Hamilton before landing at Hamilton Airport to a water arch welcome. The first service from Hamilton to Sydney was operated the following day on the 1st of September 2009. The Hamilton to Brisbane service began later in the week on the 5th of September.

Pacific Blue reintroduced Wellington to Sydney services in September 2009 with a thrice weekly service being offered. The service had previously been operated between March 2004 and was axed on the 1st of April 2005.

ZK-PBL after returning back to the New Zealand register on approach at Auckland on 1 April 2014

Queenstown was added to the domestic and international network in September 2009. On the 5th of September twice weekly flights were introduced between Queenstown and Sydney. A Pacific Blue media release said, A perfect blue sky and water cannon arc from emergency services greeted Pacific Blue's inaugural international flight into Queenstown on Saturday. The flight from Sydney landed 10 minutes ahead of schedule, to the delight of the 168 passengers. Pacific Blue ground operations support manager Dave Bargh said the airline was happy to be able to offer affordable flights into Queenstown, an option lacking for some time. On the 19th of September 2009 Pacific Blue introduced a twice weekly domestic service from Auckland and Queenstown.

Pacific Blue Boeing 737-800 ZK-PBJ arrives at Queenstown on 20 November 2010

A thrice-weekly new route from Dunedin to Brisbane was introduced from 10th of September. The inaugural flight from Brisbane, which was almost full, was called a "penguin party in the sky", with passengers given the chance to win tourism packages in Dunedin, as well as a jaffa roll and auction, the proceeds of which went to the Yellow-eyed Penguin Trust. The return flight to Brisbane was full.

At the announcement of these new services Virgin Blue Group CEO, Brett Godfrey, said the new flights would make air travel more affordable for more New Zealanders. “Travellers in regional New Zealand have made it clear that they want the same easy access to low fares that the three main centres enjoy and our announcements today go a long way to achieving that,” he said. “When the new services start Pacific Blue will have international flights from six New Zealand airports – Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, Christchurch, Dunedin and Queenstown – which is more than any other airline.” Pacific Blue would be the first low-fare airline to fly internationally into Queenstown, which to date had been served only by full-service carriers.  

On the domestic front Pacific Blue faced new competition when Qantas subsidiary Jetstar replaced Qantas’ domestic operation on the 10th of June 2009. In response Pacific Blue said it would expand its domestic network, including allocating a third 179-seat Boeing 737-800 for domestic operations. Flights between Wellington and Christchurch were reduced and the Christchurch-Dunedin service was replaced by a direct Auckland-Dunedin service.

Cairns was the next new destination for Pacific Blue with twice weekly flights being introduced between Auckland and Cairns on the 23rd of March 2010. These flights were aimed at travellers heading to the tropics but the company also introduced twice weekly seasonal flights for skiers between Brisbane and Queenstown from the 25th of June 2010. These operated through to the 12th of September.

The winter schedule saw the addition of a third weekly flight between both Dunedin and Hamilton to Brisbane but also the cutting of the Hamilton to Sydney service on the 30th of July 2010. CEO Mark Pitt said "Both Dunedin and Hamilton markets have shown good support for our direct services to Brisbane and as a result we're adding an extra weekly flight from both cities. While the support for Hamilton-Sydney has also been positive during periods such as school holidays, we have made the decision to focus on a route from Hamilton that is in stronger demand and allows us to provide more frequent services. We will continue to work with Hamilton Airport on new connections and potential seasonal flights."

Meanwhile the competition from Air New Zealand and Jetstar proved too much for Pacific Blue’s domestic service. On the 16th of August 2010 the Virgin Blue airlines group announced it was pulling Pacific Blue out of an underperforming New Zealand domestic market, to strengthen its trans-Tasman, Pacific and Asian networks. The decision to pull out of the domestic market came after the airline lost millions of dollars in the New Zealand market. Virgin Blue's chief executive, John Borghetti, said there was no end in sight to Pacific Blue losing money in New Zealand because three airlines were competing for travellers in a country of just four million people. Mr Borghetti declined to reveal the accumulated losses from its New Zealand-based operations but said they had been in the tens of millions of dollars since it began there about three years ago. "The prospects of it turning a profit are not good so there really is no point continuing."  Pacific Blue Airlines final domestic operations operated on the 17 October 2010. The final domestic services, flight DJ3046 from Auckland to Wellington and the return flight to Auckland, DJ3055, were operated by Boeing 737-800 ZK-PBA.

Speaking on the demise of the domestic operation Pacific Blue said the New Zealand-dedicated aircraft would be shifted to international routes. Despite the domestic shutdown, Pacific Blue said it was committed to a Christchurch base, and would employ up to 100 extra staff in New Zealand. At that stage the airline employed 450 staff. CEO Mark Pitt said the new staff would be split between Christchurch and Auckland. He said the airline's 200 Christchurch-based cabin crew and pilots would remain, as would about 60 to 70 head office staff overseeing international flights.

On the 16th of October 2010 the Virgin Blue Group of Airlines Chief Executive Officer John Borghetti announced the first phase of the Group's network review aimed at delivering increased competition and capturing growth opportunities. Mr Borghetti said: "As we enter a new era for Virgin Blue it is vital that we have the right aircraft on the right routes if we are to fully exploit our competitive advantages in the context of the Group's three core business: domestic short haul, international medium haul and international long haul. "We are adding capacity to routes with strong revenue potential and accordingly, removing capacity from services which are underperforming," he said. "These changes will maximise yields, increase aircraft utilisation and also provide a more attractive schedule for the business market, including better integration of our international and domestic schedules." Mr Borghetti said that Pacific Blue would expand as an international medium haul airline with operations across the Tasman, the Pacific Islands and South East Asia. "Pacific Blue will cease flying New Zealand domestic routes and redeploy its New Zealand-based aircraft on to trans-Tasman and medium haul international routes. Guests holding forward bookings on New Zealand domestic routes from 18 October onward will be provided with re-accommodation and refund options," he said. Mr Borghetti said that growing capacity on trans-Tasman routes was a positive step that would see an increase in New Zealand-based staff. Pacific Blue currently employs around 450 New Zealanders at crew bases in Christchurch and Auckland and its head office in Christchurch and the increase in international flying means up to 100 new jobs would be created.

By this stage Pacific Blue (Australia) was operating flights to South East Asia and V Australia was operating services to the USA, South Africa and South East Asia.

On the 4th of May 2011, the former Virgin Blue revealed its new name, Virgin Australia. Late that year, on the 7th of December 2011, the Virgin Australia group of airlines officially launched its international airlines V Australia and Pacific Blue under the Virgin Australia brand. The airline said, the establishment of one brand and identity for Virgin Australia’s domestic and international operations is a key part of the company’s Game Change Program strategy to become the airline of choice in Australia.”

The Virgin Australia group of airlines also unveiled a new brand and livery for its joint venture with the Government of Samoa, Polynesian Blue. The Prime Minister of Samoa, the Hon. Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoi, announced that the country’s national airline would operate as Virgin Samoa.

Pacific Blue Airlines, like Freedom Air and Kiwi International Airlines helped shaped New Zealand domestic and short-haul international flying. It again was another agent in getting  more people flying. Qantas' response was Jetstar while Air New Zealand's response was a continual refining of itself as a national carrier with low-fare offers. But ultimately there wasn't room for three major domestic operators in New Zealand. The rebranding of Pacific Blue as Virgin Australia took the local flavour away and the rebranded identity struggled, and even more so with the ending of the Air New Zealand-Virgin Australia alliance. 

New Zealand Registered Fleet

Boeing 737-8BK
ZK-PBC  Missy Mainlander c/n 33017

Boeing 737-8FE
ZK-PBA Bonnie Blue c/n 33796
ZK-PBB  Whitney Sundays c/n 33797
ZK-PBD  Pacific Pearl c/n 33996
ZK-PBF Tapu’itea c/n 33799
ZK-PBG Bewitching Broome c/n 34015
ZK-PBI Lady Rebecca c/n 34440
ZK-PBJ Billie Blue c/n 34013
ZK-PBK Maiden New Zealand  c/n 36604
ZK-PBL Canterbury Belle c/n 36605
ZK-PBM Kiwi Ana c/n 36601

Also on approach at Auckland, ZK-PBM on 21 June 2013

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