A summer surge in airline capacity to Auckland is coming, although new airline arrivals have levelled off.
Scott Tasker, Auckland Airport's general manager aeronautical commercial, says while new airlines for New Zealand are on the radar, this summer will not have such rapid growth as during the past 18 months.
"You want all that growth to bed in and the airlines get to the position of sustainable profitable services."
Air New Zealand said this week that its competitors were behaving more "rationally" with some scaling back flights. American Airlines will pause its Los Angeles-Auckland service for longer this summer and Emirates ended an Auckland-Sydney service this year, cutting capacity across the Tasman.
But the summer still looks strong around the country and this will help push down prices.
House of Travel commercial director Brent Thomas says the inbound tourism boom means aircraft have to be back-filled and this drives bargain airfares. He says his firm has double-digit growth in bookings compared to a year ago.
This reflected a buoyant economy, more choice of airlines and a tendency for travellers to take shorter but more frequent breaks in mid-haul destinations around the Pacific Rim.
He says Air New Zealand's $600 return deal today is an example of how low fares can go for promotional reasons, but overall prices are still trending down as aircraft become more efficient and with fuel prices at relatively low levels.
During the past two years 11 new airlines flying 18 new routes had come to Auckland. Passengers through the airport rose from 17.5 million last year to 19.2 million the 12 months to August.
Tasker says there is a good pipeline of opportunity.
"That's from existing carriers expanding their operations and there will be new stuff."
In addition to the usual boost to seats during summer by most carriers, new aircraft and some year-round increases in the number of seats are coming to Auckland.
These include Thai Airways moving to daily flights using its brand new Dreamliner aircraft and Philippine Airlines upgauaging to an Airbus 254-seat A340, which will allow it to fly directly between Auckland and Manila non-stop rather than flying via Cairns.
Tasker says it is a sign Philippine Airlines is expanding its network and putting a "stake in the ground" in this market. Manilla is a growing hub that offers good connections.
"It's giving us another direct service into a South East Asian hub - that growth [for Auckland] over the last few years from South East Asia is something that hasn't come in spades."
The new non-stop service to Manila will add more than 14,000 seats to the route, increasing seat capacity by 22 per cent, and inject $13.6 million annually into the New Zealand economy.
Thai Airways' new plane is an example of improved aircraft coming into this market, Tasker says.
The Auckland-Bangkok route will add 65,000 seats to the route and inject $53m annually into the New Zealand economy, the airport estimates.
"Thailand is a popular holiday destination for Kiwis with more than 46,000 New Zealanders travelling there during the past year, with the majority of travellers being holiday makers."
The additional flights will provide further travel options for visitors from the United Kingdom, Europe, India and South East Asia who travel through Thai Airways' hub in Bangkok.
Air New Zealand, the airport's single biggest customer, is putting extra flights on to Vancouver, Houston and Buenos Aires during summer ahead of a big expansion in flying to Bali and Hawaii from next autumn, where it faces fierce competition from Hawaiian Airlines.
Air New Zealand announced in August it will fly almost 60,000 additional seats between Auckland and Honolulu from April to October next year, an increase of 75 per cent compared with this year.
Hawaiian Airlines has been flying here for more than four years and has countered the Air New Zealand move by adding two new flights, to its current three, from next March.
Air New Zealand is also investigating new ultra-long-haul routes, including Chicago and destinations in South America.
On the non-stop route to the United States mainland, Air New Zealand's alliance partner United and rival American Airlines both paused their services during the past winter - leading to a 16 per cent drop in passengers last month compared to August last year - but are returning with bigger aircraft and flash new cabins over summer.
United Airlines will operate a 777-300ER aircraft on its seasonal Auckland-San Francisco route when it recommences services from October 31, which features its new Polaris business-class product.
The move will add another 114 seats on each flight from the 787-9 aircraft originally scheduled, and as a result United is moving to six services a week from daily on the route, through to December 17 and then operate daily through to March 24.
American Airlines is having a longer winter pause next year but when it returns on October 6 will upgauge from a Boeing 787-8 to a larger 787-9 with extra capacity for both passengers and cargo.
Tasker says this summer will be the first that Emirates and Qatar are both flying for the duration of summer. Qatar entered the market half way through last summer and with both airlines flying for the entire peak season this opens up dedicated pipelines into Britain and Europe.
China remains strong with seven airlines flying to Auckland with a total of up to eight flights a day over summer.
"From a New Zealand tourism perspective we're seeing real diversification of markets - we have really capacity into the United States, Britain, Europe, South Asia, North Asia and across the Tasman," he says.
"We've got a whole lot of markets firing. That's good because markets come and go."
In Christchurch Singapore Airlines is boosting services as is China Southern Airlines from three times a week to seven days a week over summer. Christchurch Airport capacity will also be boosted this summer.
Cathay Pacific will debut in the South Island on December 1, flying an Airbus A350 from Hong Kong three times a week for three months.
In the domestic market Jetstar will increase its total number of regional flights but is canning some early morning services out of Auckland, while Air New Zealand is putting on 180,000 more seats across its network.