Auckland moves forward as Asia-South America hub, with potential unknown

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A Dubai of the southern hemisphere?

Auckland is moving forward with a goal to become a network hub for flights between Asia and South America.

The New Zealand government has given its officials a mandate to negotiate new and more liberalised air service agreements with China and Brazil, as well as up to eight other countries, associate transport minister Nathan Guy said, as we reported on our Air Transport Intelligence news wire service.

Guy said the pending new agreements will “encourage stronger tourism and business ties with two of the fastest growing regions in the world.”

This is a vision shared by Air New Zealand. Chief executive Rob Fyfe last year outlined the prospect of a Dubai-style hub in New Zealand that would replace the existing hub in Europe for Asia-South America traffic.

“New Zealand is perfectly positioned to become a new hub linking Asia and South America,” he said.

Only Aerolineas Argentinas and Oneworld carriers LAN and Qantas have direct flights from South America to Oceania, while only Qantas has onward connections to Asia. Air China, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways, members of Star Alliance with Air New Zealand, serve Auckland but no Star Alliance carrier has routes between South America and Oceania. Oneworld carriers Cathay Pacific and LAN already transfer passengers between Asia and South America at Auckland, Guy said.

Fyfe was also eyeing new services for the carrier’s order of Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, for which it is the launch customer for. Targeted destinations were undisclosed cities in South America and India, as well as South Africa. Fyfe also said adding further cities in China and America was an option.

With Air New Zealand’s first 787-9 not due for delivery until 2013 at the earliest, Fyfe said he was looking at “getting some of these other options up and running in the meantime”.

For all the optimism New Zealand and Air New Zealand share, some within those organisations quietly share doubts over the potential for New Zealand to become a hub.

Far greater services are available through Europe, including more one-stop journeys, whereas a limited number of flights into and out of New Zealand from Asia and South America could mean passengers have to transit through hubs in Asia and South America to board a trunk route flight to or from New Zealand.

Given the thin traffic in and out of New Zealand, Fyfe remarked that once a carrier planted itself on a route, it would be difficult for the route to support more than one carrier. That would potentially alienate customers who align themselves with an alliance not operating a route.


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