Just weeks after the completion of this year’s Routes Asia forum in the capital of the Philippines, Manila, it has emerged that Air New Zealand will further expand its Pacific Rim network with the launch of direct flights to the city from Auckland before the end of the year.
The new year-round service will operate three times a week using Boeing 767-300 equipment with a flight time of around 10 and a half hours in each direction, subject to government and regulatory approvals. Flights are due to commence from December 2016 and full schedules will be confirmed when reservations are opened around mid-year.
Air New Zealand Chief Executive Officer Christopher Luxon highlighted that the airline expects the service to see strong point-to-point flows at both ends of the route. “The number of visitors from the Philippines is also continuing to grow rapidly, up more than 20 percent in the past year alone so we’re anticipating that demand for this service will be steady in both directions,” he said.
As the only non-stop service between New Zealand and the Philippines, the flight will be quicker and more convenient for travellers than the fastest current service options which fly indirect, potentially saving up to two and a half hours each way.
“The Filipino population in New Zealand has more than tripled since 2001 and is now the third largest Asian ethnic group, with around 40,000 Filipinos resident in New Zealand,” added Luxon.
From a tourism perspective, the capital of the Philippines has plenty to offer visitors including historic Spanish colonial architecture and cultural landmarks, activities and extensive shopping options. Beyond Manila, the Philippines boasts more than 7,000 islands including the famous Boracay and Palawan islands and Air New Zealand will hope to secure transfer traffic into the wider country as well as generating its own regional feed via Auckland.
The addition of Manila brings the total number of Air New Zealand’s international destinations to 32. In other markets, Air New Zealand has written to the Director of the Civil Aviation Authority of Vanuatu to clarify the circumstances under which it would consider resuming services between Auckland and Port Vila.
The letter makes it clear that Air New Zealand would only consider resuming services once a permanent solution for the runway at Bauerfield airfield has been fully funded, designed to a satisfactory standard and contracted to a competent contractor.
The airline ended its flights to Port Vila in late January this year as the he condition of the runway at Port Vila had been gradually deteriorating. “We have taken the difficult decision to suspend services before the situation becomes unsafe,” it said in a statement.
Air New Zealand’s general manager flight operations, Stephen Hunt, said that while interim repairs are currently underway the one year lifespan of these repairs does not provide sufficient operational certainty to build a sustainable service on.
“We continue to monitor the situation in Port Vila and we’re encouraged with the Vanuatu Government progressing the current World Bank Pacific Aviation Investment Program in relation to Bauerfield,” he said.
Air New Zealand is hopeful that the current proposed works to permanently resolve the operational integrity concerns at Bauerfield will proceed without further delay, strengthening the prospect of a resumption of services later this year. The existing temporary works are due for completion by next month and it had been thought would herald the return of the carrier’s flights.
“The decision to suspend services was not taken lightly, however, providing a safe and secure operation is paramount and non-negotiable,” said Hunt.
Although some regional operators are continuing to serve Port Vila, the loss of the flights from Air New Zealand as well as Qantas and Virgin Australia have hit the local economy hard. The Vanuatu Chamber of Commerce said many businesses were on the verge of closing down with the suspension of services by the major airlines a severe blow to tourism in the country which is still struggling to recover from the devastation wrought by Cyclone Pam last year.