Virgin Australia cuts Dunedin flights
The only flights to Sydney and Melbourne from Dunedin have been scrapped - and Dunedin residents found out before the city's airport boss.
Dunedin International Airport chief executive John McCall said Virgin Australia gave him a "brief courtesy call" to confirm concerns by Dunedin customers they could no longer book flights to the two Australian destinations for the coming summer. The airline will continue to fly from Dunedin to Brisbane.
It removes 12,700 potential passengers to Dunedin over the peak Christmas period.
The seasonal route had run twice-weekly between December and January to each Australian city and McCall said passenger demand was strong.
"Year-on-year for the period they ran, Melbourne was up 16 per cent and Sydney was up 6 per cent," he said.
Virgin Australia spokesperson Luke O'Donnell said the seasonal routes were dropped "based on performance", but he didn't dispute the airport's figures.
The airline considered demand across its whole network and decided the aircraft would be more profitable on other routes, O'Donnell said.
McCall said Jetstar would be the "most logical fit" as a replacement for the lost services.
International flights out of Dunedin have declined since Virgin Australia and Air New Zealand began a trans-Tasman alliance in 2010.
One of the conditions of regulatory approval for the alliance in 2010 was that the airlines couldn't decrease the number of seats offered on the Dunedin to Brisbane route.
This was dropped three years later when the alliance was reauthorised.
The routes from Dunedin to Melbourne and Sydney were not included in the original condition despite the airport's lobbying.
Air New Zealand stopped flying from Dunedin to the three Australian destinations in 2010, divesting responsibility to Virgin, with a subsequent drop in the number of weekly flights.