Flights between New Zealand and China are set to significantly increase this year with the signing of new air services deals.

From a limit of seven a week just five years ago, nearly 60 flights now go in both directions, and Transport Minister Simon Bridges hopes this will soon increase to 70.

This would allow more flights, primarily by Chinese carriers, but he said Air New Zealand could expand its services too.

Myanmar and Angola have also asked to start formal negotiations.



Although air services agreements do not guarantee flights will start, they are required by international conventions and provide the foundations for services between countries. Such agreements are largely responsible for the big surge in travel by New Zealanders. The number of Kiwis travelling overseas has risen five fold in the past 38 years to more than 1.1 million a year.

The attraction of New Zealand for tourists has also encouraged airlines to put on flights, but Kiwi holidaymakers benefit as they aim to fill northbound planes.

New Zealand has some of the most liberal open skies settings in the world and Bridges said consumers were benefiting from the surge in new airlines and routes.

The country had about 80 agreements or less formal arrangements around the world, including 30 negotiated in the past five years.

"Ultimately it means more destinations at cheaper prices.

Air Service Agreements and an incredibly permissive policy might not sound like much to the average punter but it opens the opportunity.

Upcoming negotiations were with Myanmar, Timor Leste, Kiribati, Jordan, Angola, Ecuador and Bolivia.

Myanmar was the only Asean country New Zealand didn't have an air agreement with.

With the exception of Britain, European countries were "much higher fruit to pick and harder to get to with some of their protectionist attitudes", said Bridges.

"The paradox here is, despite international aviation being one of the most obviously globalised industries, it is incredibly highly regulated by bilateral air services agreement. There are literally thousands of them in place resulting in a very complex web of regulation."

Although barriers to flying between countries had been breaking down since the turn of the century, and even though the government had embraced a more liberal approach, Air New Zealand was benefitting from more destinations and partnerships and had weathered the competition.

"Every time we have liberalised Air New Zealand has risen to the challenge. The answer to protectionist-type concerns is excellence."

The agreements could also allow any airline to fly domestically, which worries the New Zealand Air Line Pilots Association, already concerned about the risks of the safety standards dropping.

Bridges said he doubted another domestic operator would start up.

"I think there are number of things in the Asia Pacific that means those concerns are unlikely to be borne out. There' s a real shortage of pilots.''