Airlines and Auckland Airport point fingers over delays and queues for travellers

8:18 am on 23 September 2023
Auckland airport as flights cancelled at start of school holidays

Airlines say they are concerned about the airport operations as the summer holiday period approaches. (file image) Photo: RNZ / Finn Blackwell

Airlines say Auckland Airport will damage the country's reputation internationally if it does not improve its services.

More than 15,000 passengers are expected to travel through the airport on Saturday, with customers already complaining about delays and long queues to get through security on Friday.

Auckland Airport said it was committed to making improvements. Chief operations officer Chloe Surridge told Nine to Noon although recent delays were compounded by staff sickness, they had had a recruitment drive and were planning for more to join them for the summer peak.

But Board of Airline Representatives (BARNZ) executive director Cath O'Brien said the delays were unacceptable.

"The airport needs to quickly improve the situation or it risks damaging New Zealand's reputation internationally."

Airlines were frustrated, O'Brien said.

"The airport tells airlines it can receive 2150 passengers each hour on a rolling five-minute basis, and arrival slots are booked on that basis.

"Right now, the arrivals hall becomes extremely congested well below 2150 arriving passengers. The airport's own assessment of recent congestion events shows that the arrivals hall reaches inoperable levels when 1800 passengers are being processed through arrivals."

O'Brien said the airport could not deliver what it was selling.

"What we're seeing is that the airport isn't capable of receiving that number of passengers comfortably all the time around the clock.

"We're seeing at peaks times the arrivals hall is filling up, it's really congested and really difficult for customers."

Airlines were concerned about the airport operations as the summer holiday period approached, O'Brien said.

"Airlines are really concerned that the processing [of passengers] at the airport won't necessarily be solved by the summer holidays, and we'll be in a really difficult position trying to manage really distressed passengers.

"While the current school holiday period is busier, arrivals will increase significantly over the summer peak."

The airport management needed to take full control of its operations, O'Brien said.

"Auckland Airport needs to manage their airport. They need to be the managers, the conductors of the orchestra of that airport.

"They need to get involved with queue management, get involved with making sure the flight screens have got live flight data displaying on them, get involved with gate allocation.

"We need for them to conduct the orchestra and it hasn't really been what's happening historically."

The first fights from across the Tasman landed in New Zealand after the border reopened on 13 April 2022.

Auckland Airport says only 51 percent of international flights were arriving on time. (file image) Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Airline delays adding to congestion - Auckland Airport

In July, the arrival of an aircraft within 15 minutes either side of its scheduled slot slipped below 50 percent.

Through a statement, Auckland Airport said international flights arriving early or late were contributing to the increased congestion.

From May to August 2023, it said only 51 percent of international flights were arriving on time, and the worst offenders only arrived on schedule 26 percent of the time.

"Auckland Airport is an eco-system, and all players need to own their role in addressing the current challenges in the international arrivals process," an airport spokesperson said.

"This includes international airlines. International flights arriving early or late is one of the several contributing factors to the increased congestion customers are experiencing."

O'Brien said it was unfair to blame it on the airlines

"We've heard a lot from the airport about how part of the problem here is that airlines are running off schedule.

"Airlines do run slightly before or behind schedule as normal practice, and Auckland Airport is clearly not capable of processing the number of passengers it is committed to process."

The airport said commissioned analysis showed when fully resourced, its system could meet the capacity of 2150 people per hour for arrivals.

From April to September this year, processing times for international arrivals improved by 14 percent, it said.

"The median processing time for arriving passengers is around 30 minutes, this is 10 minutes slower than pre-Covid."

It said it was committed to making improvements.

"We will continue to work with all our partners in the arrivals process (airlines, their ground handlers, Customs and Biosecurity NZ) to create a better experience for customers as our country's national gateway."

Billion-dollar redevelopment project

Auckland Airport has begun a $3.9 billion infrastructure upgrade to integrate a new domestic terminal with its international terminal.

The investment has been heavily criticised by airlines. At the time, O'Brien said the cost of the project would get pushed onto airlines in the form of airport fees, and that would flow on to ticket prices.

In a statement, the airport said: "At the same time as airlines are claiming Auckland Airport doesn't have enough space and is not efficient, they are also calling for us to halt investment in a new integrated domestic and international terminal which will significantly improve space, efficiency and the customer experience for travellers.

In March, the airport was consulting with airlines on new aeronautical charges between July 2023 and June 2027. Its pricing decision was made in June this year, and stated "prices must increase to fund this much needed investment".

Airline domestic charges will initially rise $3.50 from $6.75 to $10.25, reaching $15.45 by 2027.

Airline international charges will average $37.25 over the five-year period, initially increasing by $9.40 from $23.40 to $32.80, and eventually reaching $46.10 by 2027.

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