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Airport expects strong summer traffic as international flights near record highs

Wellington International Airport says it is expecting a strong summer on a mix of new services and increased capacity to and from Australia.

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By Gavin Evans

The company, which yesterday reported an almost 5 per cent increase in first-half passenger movements, said the numbers being carried on international flights are already near record highs.

Overall traffic from Asia had increased 37 per cent since Singapore Airlines started its service through Melbourne in May and further capacity to Australia and the Pacific will be added in coming months, airport chief executive Steve Sanderson said.

Virgin Australia launches its Wellington-Sydney service this weekend and Air New Zealand starts its Wellington to Brisbane service in mid-December. Fiji Airways will be introducing its larger Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft from December, while Qantas and Jetstar will also be flying additional services to Sydney and the Gold Coast during the summer, he said.

“We are anticipating a busy summer season.”

The airport, 66 per cent-owned by Infratil, is the country’s third-largest and a key domestic hub. Domestic services accounted for 86 per cent of the 3.16 million passengers that moved through it in the six months through September.

All the country’s airports are benefiting from an on-going tourism boom.

A record 3.8 million visitors landed in New Zealand in the year through August. Wellington handled 448,316 international passengers in the six months through September, 4.3 per cent more than a year earlier.

Sanderson said the 4.8 per cent growth in domestic numbers reflected increased demand across the network, but particularly from regional centres.

New services to tourist destinations like Queenstown, Rotorua, and Nelson were a driver. Increased capacity from Jetstar and Air New Zealand to Queenstown had doubled demand on that route, he said, while links with the top of the South Island have also strengthened. Air New Zealand also increased flights to Tauranga and Rotorua earlier this year.

Wellington International Airport, one-third owned by Wellington City Council, invested $47.5 million on development in the six months through September, $5.2 million more than a year earlier. The latest spend included a nine-level parking building that opened last week and a 134-room Rydges Hotel due to be completed before the end of the year.

The company yesterday reported an after-tax loss of $2.1 million, up from $1.74 million the year before.

Excluding a $40.6 million subvention payment to Infratil – up from $37.6 million the year before – operating earnings climbed 5 per cent to $49.6 million. The airport is part of the Infratil group for tax purposes. Wellington City Council received a $12.6 million dividend, up from $11.9 million a year earlier.

Total revenue increased almost 6 per cent to $67.5 million, led by a $3 million increase in landing and terminal charges to $40.6 million. Retail and other trading brought in $20.5 million, while property rents and leases increased almost 3 percent to $6.3 million.

The company has been advancing plans for a $300 million, 350-metre extension of its runway south to enable direct international services from Asia and the US.

A court ruling in December required the company to resubmit its proposal with additional information the Civil Aviation Authority is required to consider when evaluating the appropriate length of runway safety areas.

Sanderson said the company remains committed to the project and will provide an update on the process to the Environment Court at the end of the month.