Auckland Airport Exec Calls For Clarity On NZ Border Re-opening

A senior Auckland Airport executive has warned New Zealand will drop off the radar of airlines and travelers if the government doesn’t move to re-open the country’s borders. While airlines made money flying to New Zealand before borders shut, it cannot be assumed the same airlines will rush to come back.

An Auckland Airport executive wants clarity from the New Zealand Government over the border re-opening. Photo: Getty Images

Half of Auckland Airport’s international airlines have now departed the airport

As reported in New Zealand travel industry publication Travelinc, Auckland Airport’s Scott Tasker sounded the warning at a Tourism Export Council conference in New Zealand this week.

“There is that risk that if wider border openings do not happen because of variants and slow vaccination rates, airlines may redeploy aircraft to other routes,” he said.

New Zealand closed its borders to all but its own citizens in 2020. A hyped travel corridor with Australia lasted about three months before New Zealand pulled the plug in July. The prospects of that travel corridor resuming anytime soon are dim.

Mr Tasker told the conference at the start of 2020, 30 international airlines flew into Auckland Airport. Now, only 15 international airlines fly in, most on threadbare schedules.

Scott Tasker says surveys consistently show New Zealand as a “desirable” long-haul destination on many people’s bucket lists. But New Zealand is also an expensive end-of-the-line destination that often involves a transit stop in another country.

The Auckland Airport executive says allowing travelers into New Zealand who come via transit ports is another issue the New Zealand Government must address.

Auckland Airport’s Scott Tasker. Photo: Auckland Airport

Travel corridor pause a blow for Auckland Airport

The most recent hard data available for Auckland Airport covers May. In that month, 134,982 international passengers passed through AKL on 1,825 aircraft movements. The numbers were substantially down on May 2019 levels. However, the May 2021 traffic stats did improve significantly on previous months due to the travel corridor with Australia.

Now, with the travel corridor in hiatus, it is back to square one for Auckland Airport and its top airline customer, Air New Zealand.

Air New Zealand flew 844,000 passengers in May, including 101,000 passengers on the travel corridor to and from Australia. This compared to flying just 67,000 passengers overall in May 2020. Aside from travel corridor flights, Air New Zealand’s international flying in May 2021 carried just 4,000 passengers.

In a recent earnings guidance announcement, the airline said that when travel to Australia resumes freely, passengers might be cautious about booking. While not exclusive to Air New Zealand, too many people are over-busted out travel plans, closed borders, canceled flights, and outstanding refunds. The current suspension of services and forecasted subdued future demand has Air New Zealand reassessing its 2022 financial year earnings expectations.

Air New Zealand is Auckland Airport’s top customer. Photo: Getty Images

Airport exec says passengers and airlines need to feel confident

Scott Tasker called for a clear path to border reopenings from the New Zealand Government. He says if people have confidence in governments sticking to timelines and previous agreements, they will plan and book travel.

“They (the public) have shown they are keen to travel to safe places,” Mr Tasker said. He also said if absent airlines were to return to New Zealand, they also need to have confidence. Right now, most countries will accept travelers coming from New Zealand, but New Zealand won’t reciprocate. Scott Tasker points out no airline can viably sustain passenger flights without filling up the cabin in both directions.

The New Zealand Government is expected to outline its future approach to the border re-opening next week.