Major international airlines Qatar Airways and Malaysia Airlines are planning a return to New Zealand, resulting in five additional passenger aircraft arriving in the country each week.
The flights come as the New Zealand Government works to add capacity to its managed isolation facilities, which are at risk of being overwhelmed due to a surge of Kiwis returning home to seek refuge from the worsening coronavirus pandemic.
From August 3 Qatar is planning to operate flights from Doha to Auckland via Brisbane three times a week.
From September 3 Malaysia Airlines will operate a twice weekly non-stop service between Kuala Lumpur and Auckland with flights landing in Auckland on Mondays and Fridays.
The two airlines were regular visitors to Auckland before coronavirus swept the globe but, like most airlines, they scaled back their networks in response to falling customer demand and tight border restrictions.
Malaysia Airlines also has a service scheduled to arrive on Saturday around midday and again on August 8.
Korean Air also has flights into Auckland from Seoul on August 12 and August 26 and Philippine Airlines has service to Auckland on July 23.
Qantas also has flights available from mid-August.
Prior to Covid-19 there were 25 international carriers operating in New Zealand. Now, just five operate inbound international services: Air New Zealand, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, China Southern and China Eastern.
The surge of airlines looking to return to New Zealand comes just two weeks after the Government ordered airlines to stop taking inbound international bookings for three weeks so it could better manage the flow of returning Kiwis.
A spokesperson for the Government’s Covid-19 response group said the Ministry of Transport, on behalf of ministers, was continuing to talk to all airlines operating commercial flights into New Zealand.
”These conversations are ongoing, and include discussing a range of options,” the spokesperson said.
There are currently 31 managed isolation and quarantine facilities operating around New Zealand.
“As we look to accommodate the increasing number of New Zealand citizens and residents returning home, other regions may be used.”
On Friday the Centre for Aviation – Capa reported Qatar would resume the service in early August and routesonline.com said the flights, serviced by an A350, had been loaded into travel agent booking systems GDS and OAG.
While the flights were not yet showing on Qatar’s website, an industry source confirmed the flights were scheduled.
Malaysia Airlines website shows Kuala Lumpur-Auckland non-stop economy airfares starting from MYR$3762 (NZ$1346) in early September.MORE FROM
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Aviation consultant Irene King said cargo had become a significant revenue driver for airlines and many had decided to operate cargo flights and sell airfares while they were at it.
She said customers booking flights on the new services took on “a hell of a lot of uncertainty”.
“The market is still operating but for the customer there’s an elevated risk,” King said.
Airlines could cancel their services “pretty much at the drop of a hat”, she said.
“The volatility is absolutely incredible but there’s nothing stopping any airline putting any airfare out into the marketplace.”
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Qatar says it will refund tickets if a flight gets cancelled.
Malaysia Airlines says refund requests will be reviewed and processed based on local and international regulations for passenger rights.
Board of Airline Representatives New Zealand aviation development manager Patrick Whelan said some of its member airlines indicated they were keen to resume services to New Zealand as soon as there was demand.
“The fact that some airlines have expressed an interest in flying to New Zealand, suggests that there is a growing demand,” Whelan said.
Demand for international travel, including for business, was picking up internationally, he said.
Auckland International Airport general manager aeronautical commercial Scott Tasker said it was positive major carriers were looking to resume services to New Zealand.
“We’re working with our airline partners to make sure they can bring passengers in when the time is right,” Tasker said.
International services were important for Kiwis wanting to return to New Zealand, and for the future of air connections in a post-Covid-19 world, he said.
“Even when passenger numbers are low, there’s vital cargo in the holds of these planes – so rebuilding air links is important for the New Zealand economy.”
The airport would continue to work with government agencies to ensure Covid-19 protocols were followed, he said.
The New Zealand border is currently closed to almost all travellers wanting to travel to New Zealand. However, special exemptions are being granted.
All people entering New Zealand must go immediately into managed isolation or quarantine facilities for at least 14 days and must test negative for Covid-19 before they can go into the community.