Jetstar’s boss questions the safety of Air New Zealand flying under volcanic ash cloud – but that’s strongly refuted by the national carrier.
Bruce Buchanan – the chief executive of Jetstar who is holidaying in Queenstown this week – says he’d refuse to fly out on Air NZ if Chilean ash cloud again grounded his low-budget airline.
Jetstar has already cancelled more than 460 NZ flights since June 11.
“I wouldn’t [fly Air NZ] because I sit there with the best experts in the world, telling me what the safety risks are,” Buchanan says.
“The same reason why I choose to not put my passengers in harm’s way, I wouldn’t put my family in harm’s way.”
Buchanan maintains there’s not the technology in Australia and NZ to tell airlines the density and altitude of ash cloud at any given time.
“If you’re trying to fly below it, modern aircraft equipment can’t predict where it’s going to be.
“[Jetstar parent Qantas] has always had a very different approach to safety than a lot of other carriers.”
But Air NZ PR boss Mark Street slams Buchanan’s stance.
“If the parent company of his organisation is saying it’s unsafe to fly, why are they rebooking their passengers onto other carriers?
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
Street notes that Air NZ is among eight or nine carriers who’ve continued safely flying under ash cloud while the Qantas group has grounded its planes.
“Both Darwin and Wellington Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres have been providing very good forecasts on where the ash is.”
Buchanan also accuses Air NZ of taking advantage of stranded Jetstar/Qantas passengers by price-gouging.
“Locals are telling me that tickets to Auckland are suddenly $400, and they were $200.”
That’s also refuted by Air NZ’s Street: “Prices haven’t been put up because of the fact other carriers aren’t operating.”
Meanwhile, Buchanan says ash cloud disruption has already cost his airline $13 million.
On top of even bigger eight-figure losses from the Queensland floods and Japanese tsunami, Jetstar has lost $100m this year – however, Buchanan still expects the airline to post a record profit.
Buchanan says Jetstar has flown almost 500,000 passengers into Queenstown since launching here two years ago.
“The opportunity is there to put some of the capacity we previously had in Christchurch into Queens-town.”
He’s also looking at new services from Sydney and Wellington.
“Melbourne’s gone really well, Auckland’s doing really well, Gold Coast has been much harder,” Buchanan adds.