'Cultures do tend to change': Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran faces questions over first year in job on AM Show

Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran appeared on The AM Show on Wednesday where he answered tough questions about his difficult first year as the airline's boss.

He appeared on the show just hours after host Duncan Garner published an editorial about the airline saying "the guts have been ripped from the company; 4000 staff have gone already and more are likely to go as COVID-19 continues to bite the backside of airlines". 

Despite a relatively active domestic market, Foran said the company's books remain unpretty.

"We are still burning cash at the rate of $65 to $85 million a month, and that's because the airline was flying around 19 million passengers, and now it's flying about 8 million passengers," he said.

Twelve months into the role, Foran said the importance of the job was not lost on him.

'Cultures do tend to change': Air New Zealand CEO Greg Foran faces questions over first year in job on AM Show

"What I can tell you is that it's been a real privilege, and although it's something that I never expected to face obviously, as I reflect back what a privilege it's been to be able to come back to New Zealand  after 25 years and to have this opportunity to work in what I think is one of the great brands in the world."

Foran was challenged on his answer by Garner.

"I'm sorry, I don't understand how it can be a privilege to lay 4000 people off. How do you do it? Do you email them?" Garner asked.

"I respond to them, and they respond to me," Foran replied, adding he has "enormous empathy" for those staff members who were let go.

When Foran was asked if there was anything from 2020 he would do differently, he said one thing was obvious.

"The whole credit situation. It was on March 15 last year that it was announced you'd have to do 14 days managed isolation, our call centre received 75,000 calls in one day," he said.

"The most we had ever received in one day before that was 9500."

Foran said it was important to be up front and wished the airline had communicated the situation better at the time.

There's no way of telling what size the airline will be when the world returns to somewhat of a normality, and Foran agreed with the suggestion that foreign low-cost airlines could challenge Air NZ on its home turf.

"We are very fortunate to have the Government supporting us, and we know they've helped us out with that loan and that's keeping us going at the moment."

Foran said without the $900 million loan the airline "would be in difficulty" and "wouldn't have the cash to operate".

Opening the borders to places like Australia and the Pacific Islands is the key to the security of the airline's future, but Foran said he has "learned not to exactly try and predict when some of things are going to occur."

"Last year I thought we would be back flying into Aussie in August or September," he said.

"Just take last week. We were flying to Australia, then we're not flying to Australia. Then Perth goes into lockdown and while that's happening, we've got a flight literally halfway there, passing Adelaide. What do we do? Do we keep going? Do we not keep going?"

However there will be international flights - even if just to Australia and the Pacific - by the end of 2021, he said.

Foran responded to recent criticism from both current and former staff members that he had removed the family-like culture at Air NZ. 

So, was a new culture being implemented?

"Cultures do tend to change and when you get situations like COVID-19, it's important that you don't just sit around and expect that things will return to normal," he said.

And as for normal, Foran said he "doesn't think travel will return to any type of normality in the immediate term".