The launch of Pasifika Air (Christchurch) is still on hold despite the opening of a two-way quarantine-free travel bubble between New Zealand and the Cook Islands on May 17, 2021.

This has been confirmed by Civil Aviation Authority of New Zealand Senior Communications Advisor Blake Crayton-Brown, who informed ch-aviation by email that "the Pasifika Air certificate application is currently on hold".

Pasifika Air founder and Chief Executive Officer Mike Pero earlier told Radio New Zealand the airline was continuing with its certification “which is a lengthy process”, but hoped to take off by the end of the year. Pero was not immediately available for comment to ch-aviation.

Rebranded from Jet Raro (Christchurch), Pasifika Air started its certification drive on December 1, 2020, originally hoping to launch in May or June 2021, with thrice-weekly premium services from each of Christchurch and Wellington to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands.

Pero welcomed the opening of the two-way travel bubble, but believed it would take time for travel demand to return. “The reality is that things have to wind-up slowly and tourists are not going to come rushing here. So we won’t be operational until later in the year.”

Pero said, at this stage, the nascent carrier was still considering acquiring B737-800s, although a final decision on the aircraft type had not yet been made. “We haven’t made a final decision yet. There are a few commercial factors that need to be considered over the next few months that will determine which aircraft it will be,” he said. He earlier indicated he was considering using two B737-800s returned to lessors by Virgin Australia (VA, Brisbane Int'l), which closed its New Zealand operations during the pandemic.

To date, a one-way travel bubble between the Cook Islands and New Zealand meant Cook Islanders were free to enter New Zealand without quarantining, but New Zealanders travelling to the islands had to quarantine, putting a damper on travel demand. Pero said travel bubbles were unchartered waters for airlines. “That’s why I’d rather sit back and wait for demand to wind up,” he explained.

Before COVID-19, the route was served by Air New Zealand (NZ, Auckland Int'l), Jetstar Airways (JQ, Melbourne Tullamarine), and Virgin Australia. Air New Zealand is offering daily flights between Auckland Int'l and Rarotonga using A321-200neo, but Jetstar has not yet fixed a return to the route, according to the ch-aviation schedules module.