8 Jul 2021

American Airlines scraps plans to fly NZ routes from end of 2021

From Checkpoint, 5:20 pm on 8 July 2021

American Airlines has abandoned plans to fly New Zealand routes from the end of this year.

The US's largest airline had earlier committed to flying Auckland to Los Angeles as well as Auckland-Dallas and LA to Christchurch.

Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood

Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood Photo: RNZ / Nick Monro

Take off was supposed to be in 2020 but was delayed by Covid-19. Now, uncertainty around New Zealand border restrictions has seen the handbrake ripped on again.

Auckland Airport chief executive Adrian Littlewood told Checkpoint it was disappointing, but not surprising.

"Given the time it takes to attract these airlines to New Zealand, committing fleet, then actually turning up - it's disappointing. 

"We hope they'll be back in the future, but these airlines are looking for their next immediate opportunities in where they put their fleet and, right now, they can't see that path for New Zealand in the next little while."

He said there was too much uncertainty for American Airlines to commit to New Zealand with all the logistical underpinnings that come with fleet, ground crew and so on.

"It's understandable they're pointing their aircraft elsewhere to their markets domestically, which are booming." 

Littlewood said the airport was concerned other airlines might follow in their path and abandon New Zealand markets. 

"This is a sign of what the recovery looks like globally, it's uneven. Certain markets are recovering faster because their vaccination programmes are more advanced and global airlines are saying, I don't want to run a route carrying only cargo and no passengers so I'll point that aircraft where I have that need."

A reopening plan which outlines what border settings will look like in future would help give airlines certainty, he said.

"Everyone accepts there's still uncertainty, we still know that, but at least we'd be clear on what that plan looks like. I think it's quite important for New Zealanders, New Zealand businesses, as well as those flying airplanes through our country."

He said a completed vaccine programme was crucial to a reopening plan and there was risk New Zealand could be left behind.

"We should be up front about that and say we've been later to the vaccine programme - that's been a strategy the government has been quite up front about, but we have to - as a country - be willing to work on the answer because there's a lot of families, individuals, and businesses who depend on an effective border. 

"If those airlines have better places to send their planes, despite the government's programme to support those cargo routes, our country can't keep writing cheques to keep those planes here."

News of American Airlines' abandonment of its New Zealand plans comes as the US' Biden administration says it will not immediately lift any international travel restrictions, even as it faces growing pressure from US business groups and lawmakers.