Air New Zealand ends Christchurch Tokyo flights

Christopher Luxon, Air New Zealand CEO.
DAVID WHITE/FAIRFAX NZ

Christopher Luxon, Air New Zealand CEO.

Air New Zealand is pulling its last remaining long haul flights from Christchurch, cancelling direct seasonal flights to Tokyo.

After questions from Fairfax Media on Monday night, the airline began contacting the industry warning it of plans to end the flights, which currently operate over the summer months from Christchurch to Narita International Airport.

It later confirmed that the flights would not be operated next summer, saying it was putting on more flights from Tokyo to Auckland in response to research which said consumers had "no clear preference to fly into Christchurch".

"While we accept this decision is disappointing for Christchurch tourism stakeholders, the impact on the total number of seats the airline will operate into Christchurch is minimal," Air NZ said in a statement.

The airline said it was adding significant capacity in trans-Tasman and domestic flights but made no comment about direct routes to Asia.

Business figures warned that such a move would be a blow to tourist operators both in Christchurch and the region, with tourists arriving in Auckland much less likely to travel beyond Queenstown if they went to the South Island.

Between 2004 and 2009 Air NZ offered year-round direct flights from Christchurch to Tokyo, before cutting them to a summer service.

On Monday night in China, Christchurch mayor Lianne Dalziel was seeking explanation from Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon.

Her chief of staff Cate Brett said the mayor would not comment before she had been "officially" informed of the move.

Peter Townsend, chief executive of the Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce, said Christchurch needed airport links to Asia both to cater to freight demands and bring in tourists to travel throughout the region.

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"Air New Zealand need to consider the overall economic impact of their decisions. This isn't just about plane landings or passenger numbers into a particular airport, it's about the economic benefit that accrues from having direct international linkages into the South Island and into the regions of the South Island consequently," he said.

In 2010 a report commissioned for Christchurch Airport by Berl Economics estimated that direct flights from Singapore to the city created more than 2100 full time jobs and added $243.7 million in output to the region.

Townsend said Singapore had been "extremely loyal" to Christchurch, maintaining services in the wake of the earthquakes.

The Japanese visitor market is growing. According to Statistics New Zealand the number of arrivals from Japan grew 10 per cent to 81,712 in the 12 months ended February 28.

Christchurch Airport chief executive Malcolm Johns is in China and could not be reached for comment, a spokeswoman said.

Last year November Air NZ announced cuts to its regional services, including axing services to Westport, Kaitaia and Whakatane from April. Further cuts will be made to regional routes early next year.

Tim Hunter, chief executive of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism, said he had been aware of the move for some time, but would not comment further.

A spokeswoman for Transport Minister Simon Bridges said it was "not appropriate for the minister to make any comments on a commercial decision before it has been made public".

 - Stuff

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