Covid-19 the biggest challenge to Auckland Airport in history, board chair says

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Auckland Airport expects it will be more than three years before international travel recovers to pre-pandemic levels.

A deserted baggage claim area at Auckland Airport's international terminal during the Covid-19 alert level 3 lockdown on 7 May 2020.

Auckland Airports arrivals and departures dropped dramatically. Photo: Brett Phibbs / PhibbsVisuals

The company’s annual meeting has heard that it was taking a more cautious approach than the International Air Travel Association (IATA) and ratings agency S&P Global, which have picked a recovery in global air travel within three years.

“At this stage we continue to think it prudent to take a more conservative approach,” chair Patrick Strange said.

“We believe a full recovery could well take longer than three years. But we’re hopeful that domestic travel will return to normal within two years. And we believe that we will see quarantine-free travel both ways across the Tasman and to the Pacific Islands earlier.”

Strange said the pandemic had been the biggest challenge to the company in its 54 year history, with international traffic having gone from 30,000 a day to mere hundreds, and on some days no one.

The company was quick to slash all unnecessary spending, suspend big capital projects such as expanding terminals, and laid off 260 staff, more than a third of its workforce.

Earnings over the past few months have been about $10 million a month, better than expected, but Strange said the outlook was still so uncertain that it will not make any financial forecast for the current year.

Chief executive Adrian Littlewood told the meeting the airport was ready to provide safe, separated facilities in the international terminal for when quarantine-free arrivals were allowed.

“We believe the government and the private sector need to work together with urgency in order to chart a path for New Zealand in a post-pandemic world – in a way that keeps our communities safe, but also allows families to reconnect and jobs, tourism and our economy to recover.”

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