Air New Zealand chief Christopher Luxon is embracing the opportunity to change the flag. He says the referendum gives this country an opportunity to stand out globally, writes Aimee Shaw.

Christopher Luxon is happy to nail his colours to the mast in the flag debate.

His personal favourite, Kyle Lockwood's blue, white and black silver fern flag, has been flying high outside his house for several months.

The Air New Zealand boss says he believes New Zealand has already chosen the silver fern as a symbol of national identity.

"For me, the silver fern has great symbolism. If you think about how Maori used it for guiding and illuminating pathways through the forest," it can be interpreted in a modern way to guide us all home, he said.


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"I love this new flag because I think it is the central and focal point of the whole design.

"I think consciously or unconsciously, New Zealand's already chosen it before to represent us so why wouldn't we go through and have the flag capture that visual identity for us."

Luxon spent 15 years living overseas. Several of them were spent in Canada which had earlier changed its flag in 1965 to feature the Maple leaf.

When they changed their flag, there was a lot of the same debate that was now happening in New Zealand.

"One of the things was, is the maple leaf and in our case, the silver fern, an overused logo or emblem. The reality is it has become a singular identifier of Canada and all Canadians and I think in many ways the silver fern will work like that for us here as well."

Luxon said Canada's transition was quite messy but that was the nature of such debates.

Countries like Canada with its maple leaf and Japan with its rising sun were easily identified by their iconic flags and Luxon said the fern was on par with those global icons.

"We're in a world of 196 countries, 7.3 billion people. As a person who has spent 16 years living overseas and leads a company that does a lot of export business, I just think it helps us stand out a little bit better," he said.

Luxon worked for Unilever overseas before coming home to a job as head of Air New Zealand's international operations in 2011.

Soon after he took over the role of chief executive for Air New Zealand in 2013 the airline unveiled a new livery which included a silver fern on the airline's fleet.

The response has been fantastic, Luxon said.

"I remember the first time it flew in to Britain, all the British traffic controllers were commentating about the plane as it flew into Heathrow. I saw crowds in Melbourne and Hong Kong rushing up to the observation deck so I think it has worked for us really well."

He said it was " respectful of the past" but also a modern expression of Air New Zealand. "I think the flag debate is very similar."

The reality is that many people, product and services have chosen to already carry the silver fern as a badge of honour essentially, so I think it is already happening.


The silver fern on planes had helped increase Air New Zealand's profile around the world.

"There are 350 airlines in the world and Air New Zealand is the 80th largest. We are a small airline from New Zealand trying to go take it to the world. We've got New Zealand in the name, we've got a koru on the tail, we've got the fern on the aircraft, there is no mistaking that we are a little airline from NZ which I think is fantastic."

Luxon said the silver fern was very important to New Zealand's identity and its business.

"The reality is that many people, product and services have chosen to already carry the silver fern as a badge of honour essentially, so I think it is already happening.

"It is about standout and we can get very lost and caught up in the bubble of New Zealand, but out there in the world, we are able to win business and build business and the fern can help us out," he said.

The first flag referendum saw five flags shortlisted from more than 10,000 submissions.

Businessman Lloyd Morrison started the discussion of changing the flag in 2004 when he commissioned a simple black and white flag with a block fern. Although he did not live to see a referendum, the country has come a long way to embrace change in the past 10 years.

The second referendum to decide on the final New Zealand flag will be held in March.