New Zealand-US capacity to reach record highs this summer as tourism booms

4 September, 2017

New Zealand-US capacity will reach record levels this summer as airlines respond to booming inbound tourism demand.

US visitor numbers to New Zealand increased by 20% in 2016 to 291,000 and surged another 20% in the first seven months of 2017 to 196,000, according to Statistics New Zealand data. US visitor numbers to New Zealand declined for four consecutive years from 2008 to 2012 and have since increased sharply, including by 13% in 2013 and 10% in both 2014 and 2015.

The US is New Zealand's second largest source market after Australia. In the year ending Jun-2017, the US was the fastest growing among the top nine source markets. In FY2017, total visitor numbers to New Zealand were up 10% to 338,000 and US visitor numbers were up a staggering 26% to 68,000.

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The US is also a popular destination for New Zealand residents although the outbound segment of the New Zealand-US market has experienced much slower growth recently. The US reported a 1% decline in New Zealand visitor numbers in 2016 to 292,000. However, New Zealand visitor numbers to the US more than doubled from 2009 to 2015.

New Zealand-US capacity will exceed 16,000 weekly one way seats this summer during the peak months of December and January, according to CAPA and OAG data. The previous high mark was just under 15,000 weekly seats in Dec-2016 and Jan-2017.

American Airlines is resuming daily service on the Auckland-Los Angeles route in early Oct-2017. American launched the route as a year-round service in mid 2016 but temporarily suspended Auckland in early Aug-2017 for two off peak months. American will offer 26% more capacity to New Zealand this summer compared to last summer as it has up-gauged the flight from a 787-8 to a 787-9.

United is also resuming service on the Auckland-San Francisco route from late Oct-2017. United launched the route in mid-2016 with three weekly flights, increasing to seven weekly flights last summer. United suspended the route, which initially was planned as a year-round service, in Apr-2017 for the winter season.

United now intends to maintain Auckland-San Francisco as a seasonal summer only route. However, United will have significantly more capacity to Auckland this summer because it has up-gauged the Auckland flight from a 252-seat 787-9 to 366-seat 777-300ER. United will operate six weekly 777-300ER frequencies to Auckland from 31-Oct-2017 to 17-Dec-2017 and seven frequencies (or one daily flight) from 18-Dec-2017 to 24-Mar-2018. Capacity will be up 45% year over year for most of the summer and by 25% during the first part of the summer (end October until mid-December).

Air NZ was the only airline operating nonstop flights from Auckland to Los Angeles and San Francisco until American and United entered the New Zealand market in 2016. Air NZ is still the only airline serving the Auckland-Houston route, which it launched in late 2015.

On Air NZ's only other route to the US, Auckland-Honolulu, it competes against Hawaiian Airlines. Hawaiian Airlines began serving Auckland in 2013 and has since maintained three weekly flights on the Auckland-Honolulu route. Hawaiian Airlines will again offer three weekly flights to Auckland this summer (with the exception of five frequencies for the first week of Jan-2018 only).

Air NZ will operate 33 weekly flights to the US during peak periods this summer, including 14 to Los Angeles, seven to San Francisco, seven to Houston and five to Honolulu. Last summer Air NZ operated 32 weekly flights to the US during the peak months, including 14 to Los Angeles, seven to San Francisco, seven to Houston and four to Honolulu. Houston was served with five weekly flights the first summer (2015/2016) the route was operated before being upgraded to daily last summer.

US carriers will operate 17 weekly flights to Auckland during the peak summer months this year (and 19 flights for the first week of the year only). US carriers also operated 17 weekly flights to New Zealand during the peak summer months last year but had less capacity as American and United both used smaller aircraft. During the peak summer months two years ago (2015/2016) US carriers operated only three weekly flights.

Tourism to New Zealand is highly seasonal with visitor numbers spiking every summer - from all source markets including the US. Monthly visitor numbers from the US have always been below 20,000 from June through September while visitor numbers approached 50,000 in Feb-2017. Given the seasonality of the market it is hardly surprising that American and United have elected to serve Auckland on a seasonal basis - with additional capacity this summer - after initially launching year-round service.

New Zealand to US one-way weekly nonstop seat capacity: Sep-2011 to Feb-2017

Note: includes US 50 states only; excludes US territories such as Guam
Source: CAPA - Centre for Aviation and OAG