Capital chasing air link to Asia

JAMES WEIR
Last updated 05:00 10/11/2012

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Wellington Airport is still "chasing hard" to land a direct flight to Asia for the city, hoping to cater to some of the 1000 or more people who fly long-haul in and out of the capital each day.

The airport said yesterday that there was strong demand for long-haul travel, supported by a highly mobile and affluent Wellington market, with the highest GDP per capita in New Zealand and the highest proportion of business travellers.

"Wellington Airport is actively marketing this proposition to the airlines which have a suitable fleet and network to connect Wellington's capital to a well-serviced hub in Asia," the airport said.

Wellington Airport yesterday reported half-year underlying operating profits of $39.4 million, up more than 13 per cent from the same period last year.

The airport company called the profit a "solid performance".

Strong growth in the international market, with many more flights across the Tasman and larger aircraft, saw total passenger numbers rise 4.2 per cent in the last half year.

Wellington Airport, worth more than $700m, is 66 per cent owned by investment company Infratil, with the balance held by Wellington City Council.

The airport also said it was in talks with foreign airlines to get a new service direct to an unspecified Asian "hub" in what would be an 11 to 12-hour direct flight. Air New Zealand uses Auckland as its hub for long-distance travel, but a direct flight from Wellington to Asia and on to Europe would cut many hours off a long-haul trip.

The airport's chief commercial officer Matt Clarke said they wanted to get a long-haul service to an Asian hub with good connections to Britain and Europe which was a key destination for New Zealand.

"Air New Zealand has a hub out of Auckland, so it may not be for them," he said, "But there are lots of opportunities for other airlines."

With the higher proportion of business travel out of Wellington, it was a "lucrative opportunity" for airlines.

Meanwhile, Wellington Airport's landing and terminal revenues were up more than 12 per cent in the September half year to just more than $30m, compared with the same period last year.

In part that reflected greater passenger numbers, but also a 6.1 per cent rise in landing charges set from April 1.

Earlier this month the Commerce Commission said the current light-touch regulations were allowing Wellington Airport to "extract excessive profits".

The airport's total revenues were up 8.1 per cent to $51.4m for the half year.

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- BusinessDay.co.nz

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