14 Jun 2006

Air New Zealand says US link to Cook Islands via Tahiti only viable option

1:14 pm on 14 June 2006

Air New Zealand, which is the main international air service provider for the Cook Islands, says there is no likelihood of it re-starting direct links between the American West Coast and Rarotonga.

The New Zealand government has been called on to pressure the airline to re-institute the direct flights dropped two years ago.

The Cook Islands Chamber of Commerce says there has been a fall off in high spending tourists from the US, while there is also a freight capacity shortage.

But Roger Poulton of Air New Zealand says the direct flights were dropped because payload restrictions caused by the short runway at Rarotonga made the flights uneconomic.

"We have been in discussions for quite some time now with the consultative group in the Cook Islands about what the options could be, and one of the options is to lengthen the runway [at Rarotonga] but frankly that is not going to occur. So the other option which we have had in operation now for about two years is to operate the service via Tahiti and that way we can fill it from two markets and the aircraft can operate economically."

Mr Poulton also says that the American travel industry is unfazed by the slightly longer flight to the Cooks.