MIAMI— Air New Zealand touched down at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport this week inaugurating service from Auckland. The new route offers increased capacity between North America and New Zealand and also opens up a number of improved connecting itineraries for passengers in the Southern and Eastern portions of the United States as well as Latin America and Caribbean markets. The carrier is keen to grow in the business and cargo markets but the new route is focused on leisure and VFR traffic initially. CEO Christopher Luxon speaks of the 30 million Americans who have New Zealand on their “bucket list” and hopes that the new route can ease access for a significant portion of those travelers:
So what we’re doing is, by going straight into Houston, we can then access the Midwest and the East Coast. It’s a simple commuter flight down from Chicago, or even from New York, or other places. And then they fly over night, great Kiwi food and wine, and then they wake up in the land of Middle Earth and the hobbits. So that’s the cunning plan in terms of what we’re trying to do.
Luxon also believes that outbound tourism from New Zealand will grow with the new route, adding easier access to Miami, New Orleans and other cities across the South for those passengers.
Growing into the business market is also part of the plan, though the carrier acknowledges that such growth is secondary at this point. Houston Airport Director Mario Diaz is focused on the role of his city as the “Capital of the Gulf Coast” and a logistics and business hub for the region. Adding non-stop connectivity into the Oceania region helps the city in growing that role.
On the cargo front Air New Zealand sees significant potential from the new route. The erosion of wide body aircraft in the domestic US market creates challenges for the company in moving palletized cargo by air; most shipments arrive in California and then are transferred to trucks for onward delivery. Flying in to Houston shaves two or more days off the shipping time for many markets in the Midwest, East and Southern USA.
The Houston operation is the third major destination launched by Air New Zealand in the past year; Singapore service is nearly a year old while Buenos Aires flights are in their first month of operation. The carrier has also launched new joint venture operations with Air China and plans service into Vietnam in summer 2016. Luxon also says that another major route announcement is coming in the new year. Combined with the outstanding 787-9 order book it is clear that growth is the focus for the company.
Such growth can be challenging for a small carrier with a tiny, remote catchment area but Air New Zealand is making it work. Luxon sees the appeal of the country as a significant driver, “New Zealand is a very cool destination in a world that feels increasingly dense, urbanized, stressed, busy, unsafe. New Zealand’s a great refuge and a great haven, really.” The other main factor in building the strong operation and reputation in the global aviation marketplace comes in the corporate culture and employee base. Even as the carrier was showing solid improvement 3-4 years ago from the near collapse in 2001 Luxon and the leadership team saw potential for further improvement.
When we look at the best organizations in the world, best companies in the world what you discover is that they do three things. They deliver superior commercial results, they enhance the customer proposition and keep looking to upgrade it, and the third thing is they have a really great culture and engagement within their organizations. There’s lots of things that can be copied within our business, but the one thing that can’t be copied is our people. So, we if we don’t have fired up, highly-engaged people giving us that little bit extra than what our counterparts do and our competitors, that’s always the difference maker for us.
That focus on people and customers has the carrier flying high and growing significantly in a competitive global marketplace. Long haul LCCs are expanding and Asia is a large focus for such operations. Still, Air New Zealand is confident that its combination of different in-flight offerings – its long haul fleet offers 3.5 classes of service catering to every part of the market – and tremendous levels of customer service from its happy, engaged employees will allow it to continue to succeed on that front.