Critical air connections protected with government backing

22 March 2021

The extension of government support for international airlines operating New Zealand’s vital passenger and cargo connections has been welcomed by Auckland Airport.

General Manager Aeronautical Commercial at Auckland Airport, Scott Tasker, said the past 12 months have been among the toughest in aviation history, and without the Government stepping in to assist, New Zealand’s international air connectivity would have collapsed – both for passengers and freight.

“The assistance provided to international airlines by the Government up to this point, and now through to the end of October, provides an important financial backstop to ensure airlines have the confidence to schedule and operate the essential cargo and air passenger connectivity that a geographically isolated country like New Zealand and our neighbours in the South Pacific depend upon,” said Mr Tasker.

Today, Transport Minister Michael Wood announced an extension of aviation sector support scheme to through to the end of October 2021.The programme, renamed from International Airfreight Capacity (IAFC) scheme to Maintaining International Air Connectivity (MIAC) scheme, allows for support levels to reduce as passenger numbers rise.

“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to significantly disrupt global aviation connectivity and has created unprecedented financial and operational challenges across the aviation, travel and tourism sectors.

“At Auckland Airport, we’ve seen the 29 international carriers operating passenger services to and from Auckland in 2019 drop down to 14 running services today – many on very reduced schedules – and the number of international passenger destinations served with direct flights drop from 43 to 20 over the same period.”

He said the impact is felt not just by passengers needing to make essential global connections but the high value, fragile or perishable goods – everything from salmon and flowers to vaccines, PPE and medical equipment – that rely on the fast, reliable networks provided by air freight.

Before the outbreak of COVID-19, 80% of the available cargo capacity flying in and out of Auckland Airport was in the belly-hold of passenger aircraft. Passengers provide the core part of the revenue stream for most air services to New Zealand.

“Efficient and cost-effective air transport is about making sure the seats are filled with passengers and the belly-hold is topped up with cargo. With only 3% of pre-pandemic passengers volumes now travelling to and from New Zealand, which at times sees international flights operating with a handful of passengers, it is often financially challenging for airlines to operate,” said Mr Tasker.

“The Maintaining International Air Connectivity (MIAC) scheme will help safeguard minimum levels of international passenger and cargo connectivity between New Zealand and major cities and aviation hubs in Asia, Pacific and Middle East. It will also help retain a base level of air connectivity through to late 2021 and early 2022, which is when we hope to see international passenger travel starting to safely recover under a vaccine facilitated pathway,” said Mr Tasker.