World’s first ‘winery airline’ to launch in New Zealand

There’s been much debate about alcohol and flying in the past few years, with some airlines banning booze onboard flights altogether.

However, a New Zealand wine company is taking things in a slightly different direction by launching the “world’s first winery airline.”

Invivo will begin operating a route from the North Island of Auckland to Queenstown, in the South Island later this year, with its debut flight taking off within the next few months.

Co-founders Tim Lightbourne and Robin Cameron have chartered a 34-seater Swedish-built Saab plane for the maiden journey of Invivo Air, proving “business class in every glass.”

Maiden voyage

While the duration of the flight is around two hours, the entire experience will last 24-hours, with a visit to Invivo’s Central Otago growers and a stay at The Hilton Queenstown included.

“Obviously, there will be some complimentary wines served on board, as well as some non-alcoholic drinks,” says Lightbourne.

“There’ll be a range of Invivo wines available and maybe Rob and I will be serving it to the guests on the flight. It should be a lot of fun.”

Lightbourne and Cameron decided to launch Invivo Air in a bid to celebrate the reopening of Auckland’s borders in December as well as promote domestic tourism in New Zealand.

The pair also want to support those working in Auckland’s hospitality sector, which was hit badly during the 119-day lockdown put in place after a Covid-19 outbreak in the city.

Half of the seats on the maiden flight will be complimentary, with priority given to those hospitality and tourism staff in Auckland who’ve been impacted by the lockdown, as well as residents who’ve been unable to visit loved ones located in New Zealand’s South Island due to the border closures.

“A lot of the restaurants have been shut in Auckland for all that time,” explains Lightbourne. “So it’s been pretty hard. We’d like to reward some of those hospitality staff with a flight down to Queenstown, which is one of our major tourism destinations.”

He also hopes the flights will provide a boost to the hugely popular Queenstown, which drew around three million visitors a year pre-pandemic, with over 60% those from abroad.

However, the resort town, situated in New Zealand’s Otago region, “has been doing it tough” due to the lack of international tourists, according to Lightbourne.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Invivo team have found the process of setting up an airline from scratch rather tricky to say the least.

“We’ve had to talk to some people in the industry about the goings on and the challenges and all that sort of stuff,” admits Lightbourne.

“It’s a trial for us. But the feedback has been positive. There have been thousands of people registering. We could have sold out the flight 100 times over.”

While the debut flight is indeed a “trial,” Lightbourne says the team plan to running regular flights on the Auckland to Queenstown route, and hope to add new destinations in the future.

“We have vineyards in Marlborough, which is also the South Island, ” he adds. “And in the North Island, we have some in the Hawke’s Bay region and Gisborne. We’d love to get some flights out that way later on this year, hopefully.”

Founded in 2008, Invivo produces wine from New Zealand, while also working in partnership with growers around the world to make wine from the top producing regions, including the Prosecco region of Veneto, Italy.

The Invivo winery is based in Te Kauwhata, located in the Waikato region, just south of Auckland.