Posted on: 19 October 2011 by Mark Howells
Air New Zealand has ordered seven ATR 72-600s and has taken purchase options for a further five.
The airline’s chief executive officer Rob Fyfe remarked that the deal, which is subject to contract signing, will significantly boost air service connections to regional New Zealand.
“This order potentially doubles the size of Air New Zealand’s ATR fleet and will put a further two million seats into the New Zealand regional market annually. For our customers that will mean a big increase in the number of business timed seats and seriously cheap ‘grabaseat’ fares we have on regional routes every day,” Fyfe commented.
The first of the 68 seat ATR 72-600s will be delivered to Air New Zealand in October 2012 followed by a second in December that year, two in 2013 and another each year for three years. The five purchase options are available for delivery between 2014 and 2016.
This move follows Air New Zealand’s investment in 23 Bombardier Q300s over the past six years worth more than NZ$450 million at list price and the purchase from lease of the majority of the existing ATR 72-500 fleet over the past 18 months.
“At a time when other businesses have shown little appetite to invest significantly in assets, particularly where revenue is derived from regional New Zealand, we have not waivered in our belief in the long-term strength of the domestic economy,” declared Fyfe. “Thanks to the purchase of larger aircraft and the lowering of fares we have seen regional passenger numbers increase by an average 5.6% annually since 2003, resulting in our regional airlines carrying 54% more passengers to 4.3 million in the year ended September.
“Today’s significant capital investment also signals that we will be upping our promotion of key regional centres at home and overseas, as we will need to encourage even more people to fill those two million more seats coming on stream over the next few years.”
The ATR 72-600 features a new cabin layout with larger overhead bins, improved seating and advanced cockpit technology including Required Navigation Performance (RNP) technology. The introduction of RNP will further enhance Air New Zealand’s ability to maintain services during inclement weather to and from destinations such as Queenstown, Rotorua and Wellington.
“The current ATR 72-500 – which sits alongside our Q300s and Beech 1900Ds – has been a core part of our regional operations since 1999 and has been a popular aircraft type with customers, serving 14 different domestic routes,” noted Air New Zealand group general manager Australasia airline, Bruce Parton.
“The ATR 72-600 will give us the means to upgauge Q300-operated routes that will require more capacity in the coming years. In turn, this will release Q300 aircraft to upgauge on some Beech 1900D-operated routes, enabling us to look at start-up routes. So there is benefit in bringing in the larger turboprops and cascading growth down throughout our regional operation,” Parton added.
It is likely that some routes currently serviced by the smaller Q300, such as Nelson-Auckland and New Plymouth-Auckland, will see this larger turboprop in use.
“It is likely that the new fleet will be Auckland-based, providing us with an excellent spread of regional aircraft including bases in Christchurch, Nelson and Hamilton. This will give us a solid platform for regional growth particularly into and out of Auckland.”
Air New Zealand’s regional services in the 70-seat turboprop market have been operated by its subsidiary Mount Cook Airlines, with Air Nelson operating the Q300s and Eagle Air operating the Beech 1900Ds. However, no confirmation was given as to whether the new ATR 72-600s will be operated by Mount Cook Airlines.