Auckland to get Samoa flights on a budget

By Bronwyn Sell

Low-cost carrier Pacific Blue will reveal details this week of its new Auckland to Samoa route, but Christchurch is set to remain the country's budget airline hub.

Samoa will bring to three the number of budget airline routes flown from Auckland - the others are Brisbane and the Gold Coast.

That is half the number offered from Christchurch, after Qantas-owned Jetstar said last week that it was setting up its New Zealand base there and would offer its first flights in December.

Cantabrians will be able to fly direct to Brisbane, Sydney, the Gold Coast, Melbourne, Rarotonga and Fiji on budget carriers Pacific Blue, Jetstar and Air New Zealand subsidiary Freedom Air.

Jetstar spokesman Simon Westaway said the airline had no immediate plans to enter the Auckland market, which he said was well served by Qantas.

"We're very much for the foreseeable future focusing on Christchurch. In the medium to longer term, it's a matter for Qantas to determine if they see a greater role for us."

Every other sizeable Australasian city has more budget airline routes than Auckland - even Palmerston North boasts low-cost carrier routes to Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Fiji. Industry analyst Rob Mercer, of Forsyth Barr, said that was mainly because Auckland was well served with competitive full-service airlines offering discounted fares to Australia.

High taxes and airport charges were also prohibitive.

"That limits the economic viability of launching a discount model transtasman."

Pacific Blue's entry into the Auckland market made it the 29th airline using Auckland Airport.

Chief executive Tony Marks said that as well as the Samoan route - a joint venture with Samoan Government-owned Polynesian Airlines - Pacific Blue was "substantially increasing in size in Auckland by doing a few other things".

He would not elaborate or say if other routes would be offered.

Pacific Blue, part of the Virgin group, began flying to Brisbane and the Gold Coast from Auckland in May, after years of negotiations with Auckland Airport.

Mr Marks said that with two dominant carriers in New Zealand, budget airlines had to be selective about their routes. Like Jetstar, it created its business model in Christchurch before entering Auckland.

Freedom Air cancelled its Auckland-Brisbane route in March, but still flies Auckland-Gold Coast.

Tim Brown, executive of Wellington Airport majority owner Infratil, said a no-frills second Auckland airport at the Air Force base in Whenuapai would have attracted low-cost carriers.

The company unsuccessfully lobbied the Government for permission for the airport, but Mr Brown was confident the airport would eventually open to civilian use. He said the company had had discussions with Jetstar, which was enthusiastic.

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