Airlines get set for Cup take-off

By Owen Hembry

Air New Zealand's new 'All Black' A320 aircraft arrives at the Auckland Domestic Airport. Photo / Natalie Slade
Air New Zealand's new 'All Black' A320 aircraft arrives at the Auckland Domestic Airport. Photo / Natalie Slade

Air New Zealand will fly thousands of extra passengers around the country during the Rugby World Cup, but the national carrier says it's more than ready for the logistical challenge.

Group general manager for Australasia Bruce Parton says the airline had prepared plenty of extra capacity for the period, with 85,000 visitors expected during the Rugby World Cup.

The spike in traffic was like handling an extra Christmas period, Parton said. The peak will be longer than the traditional holiday rush.

During the tournament there will be a 6.3 per cent average weekly increase in seats for the domestic jet service, with long haul up 4.9 per cent and Tasman/Pacific routes up 4.7 per cent.

The percentage increases may not sound much but in terms of capacity it's a truckload, Parton says.

"It's kind of 1.5 to 2 times the annual growth in the New Zealand market."

The 74.7 per cent government-owned airline has to make sure no heavy maintenance is undertaken during the tournament, Parton says. It has looked at other major events, including the Sydney Olympics, and spoken to other airlines which had accommodated such occasions.

"All of our aircraft are in the air, we've got additional domestic services operating, we've also held on to some spare capacity."

The airline has brought in A320 aircraft for its domestic fleet to replace 737 planes, which it will also hold on to until after the tournament.

A dedicated team has been in place for 18 months and preparations are on track.

There has also been contingency planning for any problems with technology, ticket sales or capacity.

"One of the things we've got very good at unfortunately from events like the Christchurch earthquake is deploying massive numbers of our people to a location in order to assist," Parton says.

Match results could influence the number of flights and seats required at certain times. If for example there were Australian supporters who had not expected their team to get to the final, the airline has spare capacity to put across the Tasman.

Air New Zealand also has spare aircraft pulled out of the system - a 737 aircraft for domestic and 747-400 to point at other markets.

"At this stage there's no point putting them in anywhere because we've got plenty of seats available in all the markets that we want to serve, so it's only when you start getting a peak that you'd want to put them in, and the reason in our view that you get a peak is going to be based upon those results."

The NZX-listed carrier has not introduced special fares for the tournament.

"We actually think we've got a combination of things we have to do," Parton said. "One is to get volume and the other is to get a good yield but not so exorbitant that people are turned off coming."

Price gouging generally was a worry.

"I'm not suggesting there's a whole lot of people doing it but it is a concern that if people get the perception ... it'll be very hard to turn around and people will stay away."

However, it was hard to determine what was price gouging and what was a fair price.

"Apparently airlines and hotels and the tourism industry should make sure that they don't gouge but I've never paid $450 to watch the All Blacks in New Zealand," Parton says, referring to ticket prices.

The cancellation of the games in Christchurch made the World Cup more of a North Island tournament and it was important to maintain prices so tourists travelled around the country during the semi-finals and final rather than staying put in Auckland.

"One of the reasons we're really working hard with tour groups and with tourism in New Zealand is to try to make sure that as many tourists as possible fly down and experience the South Island."

Meanwhile, most of the traffic flow during the tournament would still be unrelated to rugby.

"Outside of those [semis and final] weekends if you're trying to fly between Auckland and Wellington to do work for your company we've made sure that we maintain our schedule and prices that are reasonable," Parton says.

"If those 85,000 people mean the rest of New Zealand stops travelling and doing business the net effect on the tourism industry will not be particularly positive."

"After the Christchurch earthquake, Japan earthquake and Queensland floods, New Zealand tourism could do with a shot in the arm ... this is fortuitous that we've got a World Cup."

It will also be a shot in the arm for the airline, which in March said it did not expect to be profitable in the second half of the year ending June.

Chief executive Rob Fyfe this week said the airline would have full aircraft during the tournament, which would be worth potentially $30-$40 million to the bottom line.

Tourism Industry Association chief executive Tim Cossar says the tournament is probably an unprecedented event in terms of scale in the New Zealand landscape.

"There will be parts of New Zealand where demand will be at extreme peaks for short periods of time, particularly around the major matches ... and to an extent there's going to be a factor that prices will reflect that demand. That's just a normal market performing the way a normal market works," he says.

"We have always said to our membership ... to be realistic about the pricing because the benefit in Rugby World Cup is obviously a branding opportunity for our country and an opportunity to position ourselves to the world."

Jetstar spokesman Simon Westaway says the low-fare airline will have extra flights leading into, during and after the tournament.

"We're in the final throes of assessing what additional incremental growth we put in, particularly internally within New Zealand we have the ability to scale up if required."

Jetstar's parent company Qantas is also geared up for the tournament.

"Our international services are feeding the Qantas international services, we always have had that full connectivity in place."

- NZ Herald

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