Air NZ boosts resort service

Projects to improve Queenstown Airport may be brought forward to cater for an extra 140,000 passengers expected to travel to the resort with Air New Zealand next year.

The national carrier has announced it will increase its total capacity by more than 650,000 seats in the coming financial year.

Of those, 110,000 on the Auckland-Queenstown route will result from more flights on the larger A320 aircraft.

More than 20,000 new seats will be added to the Christchurch-Queenstown route.

Additionally, more than 12,000 seats will be added between Queenstown and Wellington through more flights and operating the larger A320, able to carry 171 passengers, on that route.

The changes are planned for next year.

That announcement came last Friday, a day after the airline revealed it was beginning direct flights to Houston, Texas, from December.

It has previously announced plans to also begin direct flights to Buenos Aires, Argentina, also in December.

Queenstown Airport Corporation chief executive Scott Paterson said the additional capacity out of Auckland, in particular, was ''outstanding'' and would provide a valuable link for visitors from Argentina and the East Coast and Midwest United States.

However, it would put more pressure on the already squeezed airport.

A $12million expansion of the international terminal, to be completed by June, would more than double the size of the departure lounge and enable the airport to process 1000 passengers an hour, up from 480.

However, other areas would face increasing pressure, so the airport was working to bring forward other scheduled improvements, Mr Paterson said.

Those included improving the baggage check-in - Virgin passengers would be able to check in at Air New Zealand kiosks this winter - and back-of-house baggage handling.

''Our landside areas - parking, [the] roading network - will be increasingly under pressure,'' he said.

''The challenge for us will be around the peaks ... for the large part of this winter we can't take any more flights.

''Next winter we hope to have evening flights, so that opens it up a bit more.

''We will be busy [but] it's outstanding and we will handle it.''

Destination Queenstown chairman Matt Hollyer said domestic tourism was an important stimulus for the resort.

Any additional links to Auckland - ''the main gateway'' for international travellers - was welcome news.

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said between April and October this year it would operate an average of 30 return flights a week between Queenstown and Christchurch, a 5% increase on last year.

The carrier would also operate an average of 31 trips a week between Auckland and Queenstown, with seat capacity planned to be 17% ahead of the same period last year.

When asked if the larger planes would equate to cheaper airfares, the spokeswoman said the extra capacity would create ''pricing competitiveness'' which ''should be welcome news for consumers''.

This year, Air New Zealand had slightly increased services to and from Dunedin airport, with a 4% boost to seats to Christchurch and Wellington between April and October.

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