Flight-seeing firms face ‘new normal’

Scenic flight operators in Queenstown Lakes are working with about 5% of their pre-pandemic...
Scenic flight operators in Queenstown Lakes are working with about 5% of their pre-pandemic market. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED
Scenic flight operators in Queenstown Lakes are learning to work with as little as 5% of their pre-pandemic market.

Peter Daniell, chief executive of True South, said in the days before coronavirus his customers were almost exclusively overseas visitors.

“It was unusual to have a Kiwi on board, and now it’s a complete flip.

“When we looked back on our records it didn’t show many New Zealanders actually flew to Milford Sound, and so we thought ... we are in for a pretty tight time.”

However, he said his expectations had been exceeded for operations in a domestic only market. In the school holidays True South was operating about six to eight departures per day.

“I’ve heard so many Kiwis say ‘I had a holiday booked somewhere overseas at this time but this is all we can do, but hey we are really happy with what we are doing, we love it’.”

Mr Daniell was now preparing for what will probably be the first “shoulder season” in several years.

But all was not doom and gloom.

“There’s good reasons to have some hope that’s it’s going to come right. We are enterprising people in this part of the world so I think we’ll find a way.”

Air Milford operations manager Antony Sproull echoed Mr Daniell and said 94.7% of business pre-Covid was international.

“So we are dealing with 5% of our market now and trying to make that 100%.”

However bookings had been strong in the last month, the chief pilot said.

“We were really fortunate in the school holidays that the weather was so good.”

He also agreed with Mr Daniell’s sentiments about a shoulder season.

“It’s the unknown of what’s ahead, that’s the challenge going forward, what’s going to come next and not sort of knowing day to day.”

“When we used to deal with the international market there was a certainty and consistency and the ability to plan.”

Initially coming out of lockdown, Mr Sproull and his team predicated they would be doing very little flying.

“It’s definitely exceeded our expectations so we’ve just got the Kiwi public to thank for that really.”

Over the Top helicopters chief executive and chief pilot Louisa Patterson said her company has had to reinvent for the Kiwi market.

An example of this was the ‘‘pavlova on a peak’’ trip.

“We fly it up to the mountaintop and you can have it with some champagne or beer, and for those that don’t like pavlova we also do the good old pie and Speight’s on a mountain,” Ms Patterson said.

“So that’s actually been quite popular.”

Their July bookings had also been strong.

“Whether that continues and what’s going to happen in September and October is a great unknown ... New Zealanders see Queenstown as a winter destination when primarily for us it’s busiest in the summer.”

With several flights per day across the school holidays, the managing director of Queenstown’s Glenorchy Air James Stokes said bookings had been fair since the end of lockdown.

The busiest operator was Milford Sound Scenic Flights, which ran up to a dozen flights a day in the school holidays, chief executive Mark Quickfall said.

The company had slashed a fly-cruise-fly product by $200.

“I suppose the international borders are certainly not going to open anytime soon, so it’s a matter of getting used to the new normal,” Mr Quickfall said.

None of the operators spoken to had talked of lay-offs.

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