Cross-border flights by New Zealand and Australian discount carriers are becoming routine between the two countries and may soon extend to South Pacific island nations.

The two to three hour flight between New Zealand and Australian gateways is an easy stage length for discount carriers like New Zealand's Freedom Air, Jet Connect by Qantas, and the international brand, Pacific Blue, that Australia's Virgin Blue is planning to launch in the first quarter of the year.

Freedom started as a domestic discount carrier for Air New Zealand (ANZ), but switched to Australian leisure routes in 2002. Last year Qantas launched its own trans-Tasman discount unit, called Jet Connect. It took over most Qantas routes to New Zealand.

After selecting Christchurch as its base, Pacific Blue's initial plans call for flights from there and Wellington to Sydney and Brisbane. In March it will add Melbourne. Pacific Blue has deferred any plans to fly to Auckland, New Zealand's main gateway, until it secures airport gates. Earlier, ANZ had offered Auckland gates to Pacific Blue in hopes that might ease its bid for an equity merger with Qantas, but withdrew that offer after New Zealand's competition commission rejected the bid.

It is relatively easy for Australian and New Zealand airlines to operate to and even within each others' country because of the single aviation market regime agreed by Canberra and Wellington. Flights to Pacific island nations are outside that regime, but Australasian discount carriers are also preparing to take that step.

Freedom Air plans to launch New Zealand flights to Fiji in April. Pacific Blue has secured Canberra's approval to fly not only to Fiji, but also Vanuatu and, most recently, New Caledonia. These routes required designation under each bilateral plus extended range operations approval for its new generation Boeing 737s. Pacific Blue has until November to launch these flights.


Source: Airline Business