Air New Zealand profit more than doubles as national carrier plans to buy 21 new planes

WELLINGTON, New Zealand - Air New Zealand said Thursday its annual profit more than doubled from the previous year and it is moving ahead with plans to buy 21 new planes.

The company announced net profit of 182 million New Zealand dollars ($142 million) on revenue of NZ$4.6 billion for the financial year ended June 30, a profit increase of 156 per cent over the previous year.

It was a continued improvement for the airline, which was on the verge of bankruptcy in 2002 before being bailed out by the New Zealand government. It struggled again after 2008 financial crisis morphed into a global recession.

The New Zealand government owns 73 per cent stake in the airline but plans to reduce that to 51 per cent in the next few years by selling some of its shares.

The carrier said it plans to invest NZ$1.8 billion in new airplanes over the next three years, including six Boeing 787-9s, the stretch version of the Dreamliner. Air New Zealand is a launch customer for the new Boeing airliner, and expects to take delivery of the first of its 787-9s next June.

The company also plans to buy nine Airbus A320s, two Boeing 777-300ERs, and four ATR72-600s.

Chief Executive Christopher Luxon said in a conference call that he believes the result makes Air New Zealand "one of the strongest-performing airlines" in the world.

He said the company is benefiting from a shift in global economic power from the Atlantic to the Pacific and a corresponding increase in demand for Asian and Pacific routes. He said the company's business in China was up 55 per cent.

The company announced a final annual dividend of 8 New Zealand cents per share, up 45 per cent. Operating cash flow was NZ$750 million, and before-tax profit was NZ$256 million.

Revenue was up 3 per cent over the previous year.