Air Asia lines up New Zealand runway


WELLINGTON — Malaysian long-haul budget airline Air Asia X will start flying to New Zealand early next year with direct flights from Kuala Lumpur to Christchurch, aviation officials confirmed Saturday. “This is a really positive development for not only Christchurch but for the wider New Zealand economy,” said Norm Thompson, deputy chief executive of the New Zealand flag carrier Air New Zealand. “The South East Asian market will certainly benefit from increased competition.”

Christchurch, the main city in New Zealand’s South Island has been lobbying AirAsia X for most of the year after an airport executive saw a media report that the Malaysian carrier had New Zealand in its sights. The government-owned Malaysia Airlines already flies to the main North Island city of Auckland. Christchurch city mayor Bob Parker told The Press newspaper from Kuala Lumpur, where the agreement was signed on Friday, that the service would be launched about March with four return flights a week. An independent assessment had shown the new service could stimulate 600-700 jobs and bring up to NZ$70 million (US$52 million) to the city, which was recently devastated by an earthquake. “I think we’ve achieved an absolute coup for our city … we beat out Auckland, we actually beat out Sydney and it’s going to revolutionize for a lot of Kiwis flying into the international marketplace because it’s going to introduce incredibly low fares.”

Christchurch International Airport chief executive Jim Boult said details of the new service would be revealed in the near future. “The exact date of launch is yet to be decided but it will be around March next year and details of bookings and fare structures etc will come out in the next couple of weeks,” Boult said.