Cook Islands Start Up To Take Advantage Of New Zealand Travel Bubble

The skies over the South Pacific might get a little busier in 2021 with a small start-up airline aiming to begin flights between New Zealand and the Cook Islands. The airline is called Pasifika Air, and with a two-way travel bubble between New Zealand and the Cook Islands soon to commence, the airline’s founder reckons there’s an opportunity to be seized.

Pasifika Air wants to start flights between New Zealand and the Cook Islands early in 2021. Photo: dpexcel via Pixabay

Better connections for the best-kept secret in the South Pacific

Former New Zealand-based real estate agency boss, Mike Pero, is the man behind the airline. His LinkedIn profile indicates he flew as a pilot for Mount Cook Airline around 30 years ago before moving into mortgages and real estate. There are also reports Mr Pero was involved in Origin Pacific Airways. That airline stopped flying in 2006.

As most New Zealanders will tell you, the Cook Islands is the best holiday spot in the South Pacific, leaving the better-known islands in its sandy wake. But the Cook Islands are not well connected.

Air New Zealand normally flies to the small capital of Rarotonga from both Australia and New Zealand. The island’s former international airline, Cook Airlines International, ceased operations in 1992. Local airline, Air Rarotonga, connects the country’s 15 islands and operates the occasional charter to nearby French Polynesia, Tonga, Niue, and Samoa.

A Cook Islander, Mr Pero wants to open up access to the Cook Islands. According to media reports, he has been kicking around the idea for most of 2020, tentatively setting up the framework for an airline called Jet Raro. But a recent agreement by the New Zealand Government to open up a travel bubble between New Zealand and the Cook Islands at the end of March 2021 has spurred Mr Pero on.

Air New Zealand flies to the Cook Islands from both New Zealand and Australia. Photo: Getty Images

Pasifika Air skips Auckland, focuses on Wellington and Christchurch

This month, Mr Pero has rebranded Jet Raro as Pasifika Air and began the process of getting an air operator’s certificate. The business is based in Christchurch. Mr Pero is the sole director.

With Air New Zealand on the route between Auckland and Rarotonga, Mr Pero is playing it smart and looking at starting flights between Christchurch and Rarotonga and Wellington and Rarotonga.

Initially, according to the one-page Pasifika Air website, flights will run on both routes three times a week. From there, Pasifika Air might spread its wings a little.

“We have an open mind with other islands. I’d like to think we can provide service and links when or where opportunities arise. Rarotonga, Cook Islands is our primary service,” Mr Pero told The Cook Island News.

Pasifika Air flights mean a better connected Cook Islands. Photo: Jetstar

A new airline would be a welcome boost for the Cook Islands

In 2018, the Cook Islands hosted 168,760 international arrivals. Visitors stayed on average eight days, enjoying the South Pacific’s best-kept secret.  The money the visitors spend helps underwrite the Cook Islands’ economy.  Approximately 61% of these arrivals came from New Zealand, 13% from Australia, 7% from Europe, 5% from the USA, and 2% from Canada.

“I believe the New Zealand market will be easier to nurture than the northern hemisphere and could be more consistent, long term. The main thing is that the Cooks gets the wheels turning again and regain lost ground from 2020,” says Mr Pero

There’s no firm start date. Holding the flights back right now is the March start date of the travel bubble. There’s also the absence of an air operator’s certificate, aircraft, and crew. But that certificate is in the works, and Mr Pero is eyeing a surplus leased ex-Virgin Australia Boeing 737-800 parked at Christchurch Airport. He’s also reportedly keen to employ ex-Virgin Australia pilots and cabin crew formerly based in Christchurch.

Simple Flying has approached Mr Pero regarding Pasifika Air but hasn’t heard back before publication time.