Air Rarotonga is planning to run scheduled flights between the Cook Islands and Niue hopefully in the second half of this year, according to its CEO Ewan Smith.
Mr. Smith says that there are two key reasons why they are prepared to go ahead with this schedule, one is the appetite for new destinations for high-end Kiwi tourists and the other is that Air Rarotonga has secured two Saab 340B plus aircraft ideal for flying between Niue and Cook Islands.
“Recently we changed our single Saab 430A for a pair of 340B plus and they have better performance better load-carrying ability and they fly faster. It means that we can carry a decent size group on that route, it’s about a two- and half-hour flight but we can carry up to thirty people on that route. Of particular significance is that we have now obtained the seventy-five-minute approval and that means that we can operate air transport in that sector.
He told BCN News via a zoom interview that they see opportunities for tourism for both the Cook Islands and Niue, particularly in the post-pandemic environment.
“In the post-pandemic environment, there’s going to be quite a change we believe in what people want in terms of travel experiences around the Pacific.
We deal with a number of travel partners in New Zealand particularly and they’re saying that the clients that they have that used to go to Europe for two months every year and that type of thing are not going back there for a few years and so they are looking for new destinations and new experiences. So that creates a new opportunity for us that wasn’t there before”, says Air Raro CEO Ewan Smith.
One of the projects they are keen on promoting is a two weeks package for tourists from New Zealand in groups of around twenty-eight people. One group will travel to Niue and a similar size group will travel to the Cook Islands then Air Rarotonga will then fly the groups across, which will see the group spending a week in the Cooks and one week in Niue.
While optimistic of this being a long-term plan for Air Rarotonga, Ewan Smith says they are still in the planning stage and have yet to formally approach the Niue government and although they are thinking of starting in June this year, everything is dependent on the pandemic.
“It’s entirely dependent on the progress of the pandemic and how countries go about opening up. We’re looking forward to a really good second half of this year, I think it’s going to be a pretty rocky ride in the first half because there’s a lot that we don’t know yet.
According to Smith, they will be formally contacting the Niue government in due course. “The Cook Islands and Niue do have a bi-lateral air services agreement and so we’ll be making an application under that agreement to the Niue government for approval of schedules.
For the moment charter flights are ad hoc and you just obtain approvals for those flights”.
The cost for a seat on a charter flight from the Cook Islands to Niue return is around $950 according to Air Rarotonga and they are also open to offering shorter five-day charters for local groups from the Cook Islands and from Niue as the interest in there.
Air Rarotonga has been in operations since the 1970s and has partnered with other airlines such as a joint venture with Air Tahiti between Papeete and Rarotonga since 2007 and codeshare with Air New Zealand on their domestic Aitutaki services.
Flying time between Niue and Rarotonga is about 2 and half hours using their Saab 340B plus aircraft which can carry thirty-four passengers.
BCN news reached out to Fale Fono last week for comments on the charter flights from the Cook Islands, but the Premier was not able to comment on the matter.