Premier Dalton Tagelagi was this morning grilled by members of parliament over the situation with Air New Zealand and the lack of available seats until mid-October and the expensive airfares. There is only one flight a week serviced by Air New Zealand to Niue from Auckland departing on Tuesday and arriving on Monday until November when the second weekly flight will resume.
The questions came after several calls on social media by family members asking passengers departing on today’s flight to give up their seats so a family of five could attend their brother’s funeral in Auckland.
Member of Hakupu Ritchie Mautama and Common Roll members Hon. Billy Talagi and Hon. O’love Jacobsen asked Premier Dalton Tagelagi about the Air Services Agreement and what the government intends to do to help local Niuean travelers who are struggling with expensive airfares and lack of available seats.
Common MP Billy Talagi appealed to the Premier to do something to help with this airline situation because it is impacting the families who are unable to attend funerals or other important family and village events because of unavailable seats.
Pacific Media Network journalist Inagaro Vakaafi was one of the passengers who gave up her seat today but the full flights would mean she will be stuck on the island for three weeks instead of her original plan of one week.
Yesterday, on social media Vakaafi posted “I hope the Niue Government manage to broker a deal with Air NZ for a second flight or another airline so there isn’t a monopoly making us pay an arm and a leg just for a seat. You don’t plan for medical emergencies or God forbid those sudden deaths within families.”
The situation with no available seats on flights to and from Auckland for Niueans is impacting many travelers with public servants spending weeks in Auckland waiting to return home and with families including the family of former Cabinet Minister Poko Sipeli who passed away in Australia last week but because of the full flights, will not be brought to Niue until October 16th to be buried in his village of Liku.
Premier Dalton Tagelagi told the Fono Ekepule that there is still no current Air Services Agreement with Air New Zealand and this is not just for Niue, other Pacific destinations are in the same predicament with Air New Zealand. Premier Tagelagi responded that his officials are in regular communication with Air New Zealand and are optimistic that an air services agreement may be ready next year.
Common Roll MP O’love Jacobsen called on Premier Tagelagi to speak directly with Prime Minister Chris Hipkins to do something about this situation with Air New Zealand.
Former Minister and Common Roll MP Billy Talagi said that it was first announced that the second weekly flight had been postponed several times, now scheduled to arrive in November. Meanwhile, our people are suffering.
Families are separated during funerals and community groups cannot join in village events because of the lack of available seats.
BCN News understands that Air New Zealand sometimes uses the A321 aircraft with a capacity of about 210 seats to Niue but for today and for the next four weeks, Air New Zealand will be using the smaller A320 aircraft which can only carry 158 passengers.
Premier Dalton Tagelagi said that the situation with the full flights is not optimal but his officials are in regular discussions with Air New Zealand over the second weekly flight.
While the leaders were debating the Air New Zealand flight capacity situation today, two families were waiting at the airport to find out if there were available seats for them to attend family funerals in Auckland.
The current peak tourist season has seen the return of tourists to numbers pre-Covid times which is great for the local economy but the local Niuean travelers are struggling to get seats from Auckland and leaving Niue.