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Before the pandemic, Virgin Australia flew a regular service from Dunedin to Brisbane but that was withdrawn once the airline entered voluntary administration and New Zealand’s borders closed.
About 40,000 to 45,000 passengers crossed the Tasman each year on the Virgin flight.
Dunedin Airport had expected the withdrawal to happen for a while and prepared a business plan, which was presented to Air New Zealand.
It had been working with the airline for 12 months trying to get the service back up and running, airport general manager of business development Megan Crawford said.
With the pandemic still having an impact on the aviation sector, it was tough to plan a new service, she said.
"There are more obstacles and risk in place than there would be pre-Covid so we are continuing the discussion with Air New Zealand and still having that communication with them around it,’’ she said.
Airport chief executive Richard Roberts did not see an international service returning until travelling was almost back to normal.
"We have to get back to somewhere near normal so the airlines and passengers know that they can fly and they aren’t going to get trapped,’’ he said.
"The vaccination rates will have to get to a point that when we open, we will be never closing it down again before we see our service return.’’
During a trip to Dunedin in April, Air New Zealand chairwoman Dame Therese Walsh did not rule out the airline taking over the service and said it "considers everything’’.
In 2019-20, about 790,000 passengers passed through the airport, and Ms Crawford believed numbers were back to about 85% of pre-Covid levels.
Dunedin Airport’s recent statement of intent for the year ending June 2022 budgeted passenger numbers to grow at 5% per year to about 995,000 in 2025-26.
Covid-19 saw the airport resize its staff number by about a quarter, from 43 to down to 32.
It was important for Dunedin and the lower South Island that the service be brought back, Ms Crawford said.
She believed the airport’s catchment meant the service was still a "very viable option’’ despite many New Zealand regional airports not having transtasman services anymore.
"Having a connection from Australia to here means you are getting the visitor exactly to where they need to be and promoting the lower South Island,’’ she said.