Air New Zealand Turns 80 Years Old – Where Is The Airline Now?

A birthday slipped by largely unnoticed and unmarked yesterday. Air New Zealand turned 80. The airline was founded on 26 April 1940. It wasn’t called Air New Zealand back then. Instead, the airline was known as Tasman Empire Airways Limited (TEAL). The end of the line carrier has come a long way since. But it’s unlikely there was a big birthday bash in Auckland over the weekend. These are tough times for Air New Zealand as it battles the viral headwinds of 2020.

Air New Zealand turned 80 at the weekend. Photo: Getty Images.

A birthday the airline won’t forget – for all the wrong reasons

The airline’s 80th birthday will be remembered as a time of turbulent and unscheduled change. At home, the airline commands an 80% plus market share on domestic routes. Abroad, Air New Zealand has built a reputation for innovative products like the SkyCouch, interesting routes, and a great soft product. The airline’s profitability did drop 31% in 2019, prompting a cost and efficiency review, but overall it has been a sunny decade for the Auckland based airline.

But things are suddenly very different. As Air New Zealand turns 80, where is the airline now?

2020 will go down in history as one of Air New Zealand’s toughest years. Photo: Getty Images.

In March, as the full impact of the pandemic became apparent and New Zealand closed its borders to almost all travelers, Air New Zealand began to reduce capacity by 85%. Flights to Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Buenos Aires, Vancouver, Tokyo Narita, Honolulu, Denpasar, and Taipei were all suspended. Domestic and Trans-Tasman flying was trimmed to the bone.

At the same time, Air New Zealand suspended its 2020 earnings forecast. The start of the groundbreaking nonstop flights between Auckland and New York has been pushed back to late 2021. It’s a pretty grim background for an 80th birthday.

Cutting ties with the mother country

Slipping under the radar were two further announcements by Air New Zealand last week. Simple Flying has reported on the airline’s decision to end its fifth freedom flight between Los Angeles and London. Flights were meant to wrap up in October. The current upheaval first saw those flights suspended. There was some hope travelers would get one last chance to have a few glasses of New Zealand Sauv Blanc on an Air New Zealand Boeing 777 as it soared over the chilly fringes of North America. Alas, Air New Zealand has confirmed the service to London will not be returning.

London has hosted many Air New Zealand flights over the years but those days are at an end. Photo: Clipperartic via Wikimedia Commons.

Disregarding the economics, the end of the London link is loaded with symbolism. New Zealand is a member of the Commonwealth, and Elizabeth II is New Zealand’s Head of State. Now, neither Air New Zealand or British Airways fly between the two countries.  For much of Air New Zealand’s 80 years, such insouciance towards the old mother country would have been unthinkable.

The decision to drop London reflects Air New Zealand’s pivot towards a Pacific rim focus; Australia, South East Asia, North Asia, and North America. It’s a strategy that has paid dividends for the airline. It has opened some interesting new paths into North America, including direct services between Auckland and Chicago and Auckland and Houston. The airline has long-established toeholds in Vancouver, Honolulu, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.

The end of flights to Buenos Aires leaves a hole in Air New’s Zealand’s Pacific network

In tandem with ruling out resuming the London flights, Air New Zealand also announced it is permanently withdrawing from the Auckland – Buenos Aires route. Air New Zealand Chief Networks, Strategy and Alliances Officer Nick Judd said;

“Argentina has been challenging before the pandemic, and we don’t expect this market to recover quickly.”

Air New Zealand is ending flights to South America. Photo: Bahnfrend via Wikimedia Commons.

It’s a sad decision on a couple of levels. It leaves a big hole in Air New Zealand’s Pacific rim strategy with the airline no longer flying to South America. The flight was also the only direct link out of Buenos Aires into Oceania. The decision to exit the route adds to the lack of east-west transoceanic flights in the southern hemisphere.

Air New Zealand says it will be a smaller airline in the post-pandemic era – smaller, leaner, more efficient. It’s not alone there. Slimmed to the bone and with support, Air New Zealand will get through 2020. Maybe when the airline turns 90, they’ll look back and shake their heads at their 80th birthday from hell. Whatever happens, it can only go uphill from here.