Editorial: The flight path back for Air New Zealand

EDITORIAL:

Air New Zealand’s second heavy loss for a financial year is no surprise.

It had managed about a third of its pre-Covid schedule for the year to June 30 in which it suffered a pre-tax loss of $440 million.

The latest lockdown has effectively grounded its domestic operations, which had provided more than 80 per cent of desperately needed revenue over the past year. The transtasman bubble shows no sign of reopening soon and, when it does, will likely be run along limited lines.

The Cook Islands are shut off with little hope of being a fly-and-flop escape for Kiwis again until the Delta outbreak here is absolutely stubbed out which is not going to happen quickly.

Air New Zealand’s chief executive Greg Foran is more than hopeful about the future for the airline. He’s confident about a recovery.

Early last year and just days into the job, he was confronted with an emerging pandemic that spelled the worst economic crisis for global airlines in their history but throughout he’s remained a pragmatic optimist.

Vastly experienced in running big organisations, he talks about the awful predicament for aviation as ”it is what it is” and the airline ”playing the cards we’re dealt”.

The parts of the business that had been most recently wound right down were, for a few shining months, thriving.The airline enjoyed record domestic leisure bookings for July and New Zealanders had rushed to Rarotonga and, initially at least, Australia.

That willingness to travel gives the airline confidence demand will surge again when the planes resume flying.To re-open its lucrative long haul operation requires flying in a vaccinated world, masked up, with strict rules around pre-flight and arrival testing.

Foran believes Air New Zealand will be a part of this but he can’t say when.Air travel is taking off overseas, airports are filling up. New Zealand’s national carrier doesn’t want to be left behind.

So that means it’s holding on to its hard-working staff, about 700 of who have been rehired this year after mass layoffs in 2021. Restarting the airline is harder than shutting it down and Air New Zealand will be competing against bigger players with headstarts flying in the new normal and will be more efficient operations than before the pandemic.

Among many reasons it is hoped Foran’s confidence is fulfilled is the broader financial one affecting every New Zealander.When profitability and the airline’s gearing improves, it will return to paying dividends.

Air New Zealand is 52 per cent owned by the taxpayer and like other mixed ownership model companies, profit is critical.Since a taxpayer bailout of around $1b in 2002 when the airline nearly collapsed for different reasons,it has paid the Government $1.45b in dividends plus tax and hugely contributed to economic activity.

Yesterday another half state-owned company,Genesis Energy, said it was paying a $47m dividend to the Government, taking its total since listing in 2014 to $599m in cash.

These dividends help pay for public services -schools, hospitals and Covid-19 vaccinations.The sooner Air New Zealand can get back to paying them too, the better.

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