Christchurch Airport scores United, China Southern; looks to build more Asian connections

Christchurch Airport is ready to welcome major carriers United Airlines and China Southern Airlines later this year, as New Zealand enters its peak travel season in December through March.

According to Scott Callaway, general manager, trade development, Christchurch Airport, this development underlines the aviation facility’s “right business approach” taken with airline partners.

Callaway: we will make it easier for airlines to get the business they desire

“(Christchurch is) a small city of half a million people, but once airlines get started with us, they realise that they are not just flying to a small city, but to the entire South Island of New Zealand where all of the visitor attractions are,” he explained, adding that his team is committed to identifying ways to get airlines the business they seek.

He told TTG Asia: “It is a common practice around the world to offer cash incentives for airlines to fly to an airport, but that is just not how New Zealand does business. Well, we can reduce landing fees for the first year or so, but we prefer a more sustainable business approach where we sit down with airlines to prove our credentials. We won’t give them money to come, but we will make it easier for them to get the business they desire.”

China Southern Airlines’ partnership with Christchurch Airport makes an “excellent case”, he pointed out.

When pitching to China Southern Airlines a decade ago, the team showed that about 15 per cent of all Chinese that fly into Auckland ended up in South Island, so a service to Christchurch would be justified. When the airline started its operations to Christchurch Airport in 2015, the aviation facility revamped all its signage to bear Chinese messages, and two years later signed a deal with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba to get more South Island businesses to accept the electronic payment system, Alipay.

“That got a lot of Chinese media coverage, as interest was high in an airport all over there in New Zealand where duty-free goods could be easily paid for,” he recalled.

“So, we really went out of our way to make sure arrival into Christchurch and getting around South Island was easy and welcoming for the Chinese. Now, we are working with United on ways to make it easier for their customers to come,” said Callaway.

Meanwhile, Cathay Pacific is resuming its flights to Christchurch, with its third year of a seasonal programme with the airport. Starting November 2023 for four months during the peak season, the airline will fly thrice a week on an A350-900.

Callaway expects the service to be successful, as it will alleviate some of the demand pressures from mainland China. He said the airline would consider moving the service onto a larger aircraft should demand intensify.

“We also want the most beneficial arrangements for our airlines. We want it to be profitable. We don’t want it to sign on year-round, make a lot of money in the good months, and then lose money in the other months. We want it to grow its peak season, find its core markets, then slowly expand its services over the years,” he shared.

He concluded: “No one has enough money to make an airline profitable; the only way to make an airline profitable is to have a good route and the right customers on the plane.”

Christchurch Airport currently serves Singapore Airlines and Emirates too, which Callaway said provided strong credentials for the facility.

Looking ahead, Callaway is eager to court Malaysia Airlines and Korean Air.

“Korean Air used to fly 10 flights a week to Christchurch pre-Covid, so that’s one that could certainly move going forward.

“There is a lot of demand from travellers all around the world coming to Christchurch through Singapore, so much so there is year-round pressure for seats. It would be good to get another service on that route. Malaysia Airlines flying to Christchurch would also work very well because of Malaysia’s young and active traveller market. These travellers are very digitally-aware, they would go off to everywhere in the country, and would visit across all seasons,” he explained.

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