New Zealand start-up Jet Raro (Christchurch) has rebranded as Pasifika Air (Christchurch) amid hopes to launch scheduled services to the Cook Islands in May 2021, owner Mike Pero told the New Zealand Herald.

"The government's announcement ... of border reopenings in early 2021 is just what we at Pasifika Air wanted to hear," he said.

The start-up started its certification drive on December 1, 2020, and hopes to receive an Air Operator's Certificate and an Operating Licence in time for a May 2021 launch. It plans to use B737-800s returned to lessors by Virgin Australia, which closed its New Zealand operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The start-up also hopes to hire staff who previously worked for the Australian carrier.

Pero, who has focused on investment in real estate, said that Pasifika Air planned to launch 3x weekly services from each of Christchurch and Wellington to Rarotonga. As such, it would avoid direct competition with Air New Zealand (NZ, Auckland Int'l), which serves the Cook Islands from Auckland Int'l.

Pero added that the Cook Islands were always intended to be the start-up's maiden destination. However, he pointed out that the new branding reflects a broader Pacific outlook and no longer directly relates to the Cook Islands, hinting at more ambitious regional plans going forward.

Pasifika Air plans to lease all of its aircraft and will not engage in a price war but rather focus on "innovative" services, Pero claimed.

New Zealand and the Cook Islands (a sovereign country in free association with New Zealand) are planning to launch a quarantine-free "travel bubble" at some point during the first quarter of 2021. Both countries have been successful in controlling the virus - New Zealand has so far registered just over 2,000 cases since March 2020, while the Cook Islands have not confirmed a single case.