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19 July 2022

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Plans to return subsidised Los Angeles, Sydney flights

Tuesday 29 March 2022 | Written by Caleb Fotheringham | Published in National, Travel

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Plans to return subsidised  Los Angeles, Sydney flights
Air New Zealand planes parked up on the tarmac early this year. 20070610

Subsidised Los Angeles and Sydney flights under the airline underwrite programme are likely to return later in the year.

Prime Minister Mark Brown told Cook Islands News on Friday he looked to continue the underwrite programme.

“We’ve still got the airline appropriation in anticipation of anything opening up and we’ve got some funding ready for that,” Brown said.

“If there was a decision to have something started it would take at least three months before you have a commencement day of travel.

“It’s not just pulling the plane out and filling it up with a pilot and crew, there’s a whole lot of work involved.”

Over the past 10 years, prior to the pandemic, the government had paid Air New Zealand roughly $100 million in subsidies. In return, the airline has operated direct flights from lucrative Australian, North American and European markets.

In 2018/19 – the last non-Covid-19 year – the subsidy paid to Air New Zealand to underwrite the Los Angeles and Sydney routes was recorded at $12.9 million.

In 2018, the deal was extended to 2022 but funding to the airlines stopped when the borders were shut in April 2020.

PM Brown said: “I think we will manage to get the Australian flights before the LA flights.”

He said the government could have dates on the returning Australian flights this week.

Cook Islands Tourism Industry Council president, Liana Scott said hopefully a decision was made soon for the direct routes, as it took time to market the Cook Islands and build interest.

Scott said lead times for the flights were usually a minimum of two to three months.

She said the tourism industry would be “delighted” to have direct services from Australia and North America.

“Traditionally longer stays, higher spend, brand awareness and travel throughout our shoulder season are just a few of the reasons that attribute positively towards having direct connectivity,” Scott said.

Managing director of Castaway Resort, Paul Ash said it was “fantastic” the Los Angeles flights were looking to continue.

“It opens up the Northern Hemisphere to us, I think it’s very important, the more people who can get here the better.”

Ash said the Cook Islands relied on the Northern Hemisphere in the offseason from November to April – during the Northern Hemisphere winter.

“That’s why we really felt the blow this year, even though the borders opened up on January the 13th, we really didn’t get the numbers we were hoping for because traditionally the Kiwis don’t come here anyway because it’s their summer,” he said,

“But normally that gap is filled up by the Northern hemisphere and if you don’t have a direct flight from LA to here then you’re never going to get them.

“So it’s the gateway to help build our tourist numbers and economy through having that point of entry from LA so it’s a no brainer.

“It's critical and it’s part of building this whole tourism industry up again.”

Ash said Northern Hemisphere tourists stay longer in the Cook Islands because of the distance they need to take.

“They generally spend three weeks here,” Ash said.

“Canadians as a general rule are the longest stayers, we’ve had them stay here (at Castaway Resort) for a month because their winters are so gnarly in Canada, so they just want to go somewhere nice and warm.”

He said the resort “felt the punch” not having them here at the start of this year.

Comments

Judy Millaire on 30/03/2022

We are Canadians, hoping and praying that we can return to Rarotonga for 4 months, commencing in December. In order to do so, we depend not only on the border opening to us, but also the direct flight via LA resuming. 🙏🙏