Air NZ provides Government with happy landings

The Government had plenty to smile about yesterday, when Air New Zealand reported a much improved operating profit of $1.01 billion for the year ended June.

The operating profit was 13% ahead of the previous corresponding period but more was to come.

The further down the balance sheet, the better the profits.

The before-tax profit rose 40% to $357 million from $255 million in the previous period and the reported profit rose 45% to $262 million from $181 million.

The board declared a tax-paid dividend of 5.5c per share, bringing the total dividends declared for the year to 10cps, a 25% increase.

A special dividend of 10cps was also declared.

The Government sold down some of its stake in the national carrier last year, as part of its mixed ownership model, but it still retains more than 50% of the company.

In 2002, the former Labour government bailed out Air NZ with $885 million to give the Crown an 82% stake.

The programme was in two parts - a $300 million loan and a $585 million investment.

The loan was by way of 1.25 billion convertible preference shares at 24c each and the investment by 2.2 billion ordinary shares at an issue price of 27cps.

A further 29.9 million convertible preference shares were issued for interest on the loan.

The Government will receive $90.3 million in cash dividends from Air NZ for the period under review.

However, since the company restarted paying dividends in 2005, the Government has received about $685 million in cash dividends.

When it sold down 20% of its stake last year, it received $365 million to give an estimated return on its original investment of about $1 billion.

The Government still owns half of the company which, at yesterday's value, stood at $1.3 billion.

The Government also received a dividend of $34.6 million from Genesis Energy, another of the companies it sold down.

Craigs Investment Partners broker Chris Timms said the strong result was underpinned by revenue growth and falling costs.

Revenue of $4.66 billion was in line with estimates but was not a big feature in the result, given operating statistics were published monthly.

Operating cash flows were again strong at $730 million.

Air NZ had cash holdings of $1.23 billion, placing the airline in a solid position as it continued to modernise the fleet.

''While no specific guidance was provided for 2015, Air NZ expects to improve on 2014,'' he said.

Chairman Tony Carter said the result represented the third consecutive year of strong earnings growth for the airline.

The airline would significantly expand its capacity in the coming year as new aircraft arrived.

''Based on our current expectations of market demand and fuel prices, we expect to improve on the 2014 result in the coming year. This outlook excludes equity earnings from the Virgin Australia shareholding.''

Chief executive Christopher Luxton said some of the plans the company had for improving customer service included the induction of the Boeing 787-9 fleet, the refurbishment of the Boeing 777-200ER fleet, moving to new terminals and lounges in Los Angeles and London and lounge upgrades across the network.

The alliance with Singapore Airlines was the third strategic revenue sharing alliance formed by Air NZ in recent years, following agreements with Virgin Australia and Cathay Pacific.

''Strong alliances such as this provide us with a platform for sustainable growth, allowing us to open up new routes and markets across the Pacific Rim,'' he said.

I can live without Air NZ

When I moved from Sydney to Dunedin in 2010 there were 2 direct flights per week in summer months between the 2 cities. I used these to fly back for Christmas with family. In 2013 this cost me $650. (I went at a different period last year).

This year there are no direct flights and the cost is $950 return. I could go a bit cheaper if I was willing to sit all night in Auckland airport (no thanks).

Therefore I have booked with Emirates from Christchurch for $640 (and I will get a meal). The flights from Dunedin to Christchurch with Air New Zealand (of course no choice) are $136 up on 22/12 and $156 back on 30/12.

I have booked with Intercity bus up for $19 which I have now done several times, it connects nicely with Emirates. Coming back there are no late buses but I have booked a night in the YMCA for $80 and $5 for the bus the next day.

I can live without Air New Zealand.

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