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Air traffic drops 85 per cent

Two weeks of flight count data released by Airways New Zealand shows the full impact COVID-19 is having on air travel in New Zealand.

In the week following the Government’s March 23 announcement that the country would go into a four-week lockdown, scheduled airline traffic declined by 47 per cent compared to the same period last year.

In the past seven days, traffic has dropped 85 per cent compared to the same week in 2019 – 6600 flights reduced to just 982.

In normal circumstances New Zealand would expect a daily average of 703 international flight arrivals through March. In the week to March 28, there were 304 across the country. In the past seven days, just 50 international passenger flights entered New Zealand. Arrivals will continue to wind down as demand for repatriation flights ceases.

Domestic air traffic halved immediately following the lockdown announcement, down from about 8600 flights weekly to 4400. The suspension of domestic Jetstar and Air New Zealand services means 95 per cent of domestic passenger flights have now stopped. The remaining aircraft still operating domestically are freight and medical flights.

“It is true that we are operating in an aviation environment unlike anything seen since the second world war,” Airways CEO Graeme Sumner says. “In December 2019, there were 25 international carriers operating in New Zealand and now there is effectively one.”

Airways is forecasting domestic traffic to recover at a modest pace after the lockdown and for the rest of the year. However, the industry outlook expects international air traffic will take up to two years to recover.

“While the current reality is stark, we are looking ahead to recovery and will be working with the industry to find ways to support future growth,” says Graeme.

Collapsing traffic levels mean Airways is now looking to reduce its cost base by 30 per cent over the coming year, in consultation with staff and unions, the Civil Aviation Authority and airlines. The air navigation services provider expects that 180 of its people will leave in the coming months through redundancy. This is a 25 per cent reduction of employees across all areas of its business.

“It’s essential that we can continue to provide a safe service during the pandemic and support the industry with an equally safe and cost-effective service when tourism and aviation does eventually recover,” he says.

The Government’s aviation support package announced in March included a $70m equity injection for Airways.

“While we are greatly appreciative – and this package has made a significant contribution to cushioning the blow – it cannot realistically offset the 95 per cent decline in revenue we are currently facing,” says Graeme.

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