United Airlines has returned to New Zealand after an absence of 13 years, adding to a growing list of new air services to this country during the past year.

The United flight, UA917 from San Francisco, touched down at Auckland Airport around 7am this morning.

The Boeing 787 Dreamliner has 219 seats in two cabins, including 36 in the businessfirst area and 183 in economy.

The airline will operate three services a week building up to daily in October when it is estimated the extra visitors flying to New Zealand will add $190 million to the economy.


United and Air New Zealand have a revenue sharing join venture on the route.

Last Saturday rival carrier American Airlines started its daily services between Auckland and Los Angeles. Air New Zealand has also expanded its operations into the United States, launching services to Houston last year. Fiji Airways had also started services to San Francisco via Nadi.

Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood said despite the capacity increases it is estimated the US market is 30 per cent underserved.

Up to 30 million Americans were considering New Zealand as a destination for a holiday.

There was plenty of opportunity for the route to grow and expand in the future, said Littlewood.

United's senior vice president of worldwide sales, Dave Hilfman said his airline had carefully considered the size of the market.

"We believe we have the right capacity - that's the beauty of this joint venture," he said.

"We realise that competition makes everyone better - we have to pay close attention to that. ''

Ticket prices, product and advertising and marketing needed to be right to succeed in a competitive environment.

With anti-trust immunity United and Air New Zealand were able to share commercial strategies.

"When you have these joint ventures you get the opportunity to discuss price, scheduling - what keeps everyone on their toes is competition from many other good carriers. We need to stay very focussed on what they're doing and because of additional capacity brought in that makes us have to be competitive."

Hilfman said bookings so far had met expectations.

United last flew to Auckland in 2003 but pulled out of this country amid financial woes which hit the US airline industry hard following the 2001 terror attacks.