Justin Tighe-Umbers Justin Tighe-Umbers

Air connections threatened

Airlines are calling for an extension of support packages from government following the Prime Minister’s forecast of keeping the border closed until the latter part of 2021.

New Zealand is at severe risk of losing what few international air links it has left, says Justin Tighe-Umbers, executive director of the Board of Airline Representatives New Zealand (BARNZ).

‘We’ve gone from 44 direct air connections to about a dozen. International air travel is down by 95%,’ Tighe-Umbers says. ‘This is now likely to remain for the rest of the year, or at least until a Tasman safe zone is up and running. Our remaining air links simply cannot survive unsupported. The government must act to preserve them.’

Tighe-Umbers says the government made a good start in April last year by providing the aviation sector a $600m lifeline. Now it was time to see another similar sized support package set up fast. ‘Costs were being covered for border agencies and air navigation services. That has now all been stopped. Air cargo support through the International Air Freight Capacity Scheme (IAFC), which is the only thing keeping many airlines flying here, is due to finish at the end of March. We are calling for an extension of the cargo support scheme and the Essential Travel Connectivity Fund until the border can re-open to the rest of the world.’

Tighe-Umbers says air links have been massive generators of income for New Zealand through exports and imports and travel. Pre-Covid-19 a typical daily long-haul flight was worth half a billion dollars.

Extending support to airlines to help the international tourism sector is going to be key to a fast restart once New Zealand has a vaccinated population.

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