New airline battle lines have been drawn across the Tasman to fill the big gap left by the exit of Emirates' two A380s from Auckland to Australia.
The Middle Eastern carrier has pulled services from Auckland to Melbourne and Brisbane in favour of its direct service to Dubai.
Emirates' partner Qantas has swooped in with more services to partly fill the gap and so has the Air New Zealand-Virgin Australia alliance whose market share will increase to more than 50 per cent of what's been described as one of the most competitive routes in the world.
The total number of seats will drop by about 4 per cent, according to Macquarie research.
Airlines and agents say competition will remain strong across the Tasman where there are more than seven million passenger journeys a year and last year close to 50,000 flights.
According to Sabre data, the Qantas and Jetstar share of the market will drop from 40 per cent last winter to 35 per cent this year now it is without Emirates.
Air New Zealand and Virgin's share increases from 49 per cent to 53 per cent and this provides a big opportunity for the airlines on what is a crucial market.
Air New Zealand chief revenue manager Cam Wallace said the Tasman was vital to his airline's business, comprising about 23 per cent of all seats.
''It's a market that we need to succeed in because it's a big part of what we do,'' he said.
With Virgin, the airline had been able to increase frequency.
On Auckland-Brisbane alone, the two airlines will provide up to five extra flights per week delivering an additional 38,000 seats between April and October. This means passengers will now be able to choose from up to 34 return services per week.
Changes meant Air New Zealand would deploy more Boeing 787s and 777s across the Tasman and Wallace said this meant a wider range of seats for the 17 point-to-point markets.
Routes such as Auckland-Sydney were subject to taxes of up to $200 but Wallace said his airline was making money on the Tasman.
''It's certainly a core part of our network, we've been sustainable and profitable for a number of years,'' he said.
During the past three years, Air New Zealand had boosted its sales and marketing force throughout Australia which was not only helping to boost transtasman traffic but attracting more Australians — a Boeing 777's worth a day — on flights through Auckland to north and south America.
''There will still be very aggressive pricing as we put more capacity in,'' Wallace said. ''It will continue to be in the near to medium future a very price-sensitive market because it's competing with other outbound leisure markets.''
Qantas is also using bigger aircraft across the Tasman, using Airbus A330s on some routes to supplement Boeing 737s.
This has been welcomed by Flight Centre product general manager Sean Berenson, who said premium travellers would miss the luxe Emirates' features such as its upstairs bar, but the smaller Airbus twin-aisle aircraft was a good replacement, especially given the increased frequency.
''The Qantas business class offering is one of the best in the world,'' he said.
''I think it does end up being good news for Kiwis. Often, when you see something like an Emirates withdrawal, you will set a spike in price but with Air NZ and Qantas both increasing capacity it does still mean great choice.''
Extra capacity from Qantas is required by regulators as part of the just-renewed five-year Emirates-Qantas commercial partnership.
Qantas international airways chief executive Alison Webster said the airline was excited about reinforcing the Tasman and between Melbourne and Auckland.
Qantas was adding seven return services per week and two daily return services would be upgraded to an Airbus A330.
Between Auckland and Melbourne there would be two extra return services, with one upgraded to an A330.
''We want to make sure that we can meet customer demand at peak times. What we are seeing is strengthening demand in the New Zealand market,'' she said.
The A330 business class product has been fitted in the airline's new Dreamliners with only minor tweaks.
Prices could be the same for either aircraft type.
''Some customers choose on schedule, some choose on aircraft type or a combination of the two. Having the 737 gives more frequency and pricing reflects the time of day and seasonality.''
Qantas has limited seasonal flights to Perth from where it has started non-stop flights to London. Air New Zealand runs a daily service from Auckland to Perth year round and increases this in summer, when it also operates from Christchurch.
Qantas' 28-strong A330 fleet was heavily committed on its domestic and international network.
''We're continuing to evaluate that and all opportunities for both the New Zealand market and importantly our new Perth hub,'' she said.
''At this point in time our first priority is bedding down the Perth-London service and continuing to take delivery of 787-9s during the year and looking at fleet optimisation but certainly we're very conscious of watching demand from New Zealand into Perth.''
Qantas will have eight Dreamliners by the end of the year.
Emirates will still fly across the Tasman from Christchurch and has signalled strong commitment to the New Zealand market with an Auckland-Bali-Dubai service from the middle of the year.
Auckland Airport says the loss of three superjumbos crossing the Tasman every day (the Sydney service was canned last year) was unfortunate but has almost been balanced by the extra flights from Qantas and Air New Zealand.
''They haven't totally back-filled Emirates' withdrawal but the positive thing is that we have Emirates operating to Auckland in a manner that aligns with its global strategy — non-stop flying from Dubai to anywhere on the surface of the world,'' the airport's general manager of aeronautical commercial Scott Tasker said.
The direct Dubai service — and Qatar Airways' Auckland-Doha flights — meant there was a dedicated capacity pipeline into Europe with about 90 destinations among the two airlines.
These, and other direct flights from Asia, meant Tasman flights were more likely to be used by those who just wanted to cross between Australia and New Zealand.
''People no longer need to fly through Australia to get to New Zealand which is really positive because that means more seats on the Tasman [for those] who want to fly on the Tasman,'' said Tasker.
With Emirates' departure, there are seven carriers serving the Tasman from Auckland and three fifth freedom routes (operated by airlines that stop in Australia and fly on) with daily flights.