Air New Zealand annual profit more than doubles

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) — National carrier Air New Zealand said Thursday its annual profit more than doubled from the previous year as it moves ahead with plans to buy 21 new planes.

The company announced an after-tax profit of 182 million New Zealand dollars ($142 million) on revenue of NZ$4.6 billion in the year ending June 30, a profit increase of 156 percent over the previous year.

It was a continued improvement for the airline, which was on the verge of bankruptcy before being bailed out by the New Zealand government in 2002. It struggled again through the 2008 global downturn.

The New Zealand government continues to own a 73 percent stake in the company but plans to sell that down to a 51 percent stake in the next few years.

The company 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 airline, 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 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 percent.

The company announced a final annual dividend of 8 New Zealand cents per share, up 45 percent. Operating cash flow was NZ$750 million, and before-tax profit was NZ$256 million. Revenue was up 3 percent over the previous year.