27 February 2015

Kiwi Regional Airlines Announces Plans and Route Network

New player Kiwi Regional Airlines (KRA) has announced plans for regular passenger air services between a series of regional centres in both North and South Islands. The flights will commence towards the end of 2015 or at the start of 2016, initially with two aircraft, and later with a third; to be flown by SAAB 340 34-seater aircraft – a twin-engine, twin-pilot, pressurised aircraft. All flights will be subject to regulatory approval. The starting point of one route is 'North Shore' and will be flown from Whenuapai airbase, subject to RNZAF approval and other consent processes. The joint military-commercial use of RNZAF facilities is already well-established at Blenheim, and Whenuapai itself was such a joint facility for nearly 20 years until 1965. Three routes are planned initially (click here for route map), but KRA Chief Executive Ewan Wilson said "approaches from, and discussions with other regional centres show there is a greater demand, and we are actively considering other possibilities." Mr Wilson said he was "thrilled to be able to offer regional New Zealand important direct routes that have either not been flown before, or are being exited by the national carrier." "Our name says a lot – regional New Zealand has been left off the air route map unless you want to travel to the three largest centres. "We intend to complement existing offerings; to fill the gaps and to make travel between regional centres as fast and affordable as possible. "We will not be competing directly with the national carrier. "As well as improved opportunities for travellers, we expect our operations will create employment and tourism opportunities, and we are in consultation with relevant organisations in the different regions we will service about these opportunities," said Mr Wilson. KRA's corporate headquarters will be in Hamilton, where Mr Wilson is based.

Source :  Kiwi Regional Airlines Media Release

NZ's newest airline announces direct routes from regional centres to Auckland, Queenstown and Hamilton. While it still needs to get certification, Kiwi Regional Airlines will aim to be in the sky by the end of the year, with direct flights between Auckland, Hamilton, Nelson, Blenheim and Palmerston North with a connection to Queenstown. The company will be based in Hamilton, and will purchase two Saab 340 34-seater aircraft from Europe for the flights. Snacks and refreshments will be offered, and the service will include a flight attendant.... Wilson said load factor and yield date from Air New Zealand had been provided to the company which had helped determine the routes, which were not being offered by any other carrier as far as he was aware. They include a flight from Auckland, stopping in Hamilton, Nelson, Queenstown to Dunedin, which will fly daily both ways. Flights from Palmerston North to Blenheim, Nelson, Tauranga and the North Shore will also be offered, along with one from the North Shore to Wellington. The direct flights from Blenheim and Palmerston North would run six days a week. Nelson would be served by a morning flight from Queenstown, going on to Hamilton and Auckland with a mid afternoon return. The flight would be part of a route left Dunedin in the early morning, arriving in Auckland around midday before returning on the same route. Another aircraft would provide Nelson-Tasman residents with direct connections to Palmerston North, and an ongoing connection to Tauranga. Wilson said the company had all the funds required to get its operating licence, hire staff, buy planes and set up headquarters in Hamilton thanks to shareholders. Investor 2 Cheap Cars, a used-car importer and retailer, and Nicole Domett, the chief executive of the Aviation and Travel Training Group, have joined Wilson as shareholders.

Source : http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/63762226/Plans-for-new-domestic-airline-announced

A sunny day in Tauranga

Visiting Tauranga on 26 February 2015 was Christian Aviation's Piper Chieftain ZK-CAL
Vans RV-7A was heading out for a fly...
...while Messerschmitt-Bölkow-Blohm MBB BO-105 had just refueled
Another new one for me was Czech Aircraft Works Sportcruiser ZK-WGK over from Whakatane

Whenuapai not a Flier

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee has clipped the wings of a fledgling regional airline before it can get off the ground, rejecting plans to operate domestic flights from Whenuapai airbase, northwest of Auckland, to Wellington. Kiwi Regional Airlines (KRA) chief executive Ewan Wilson has responded by accusing the Government of bias, questioning its role in who uses the military airbase given the government's major shareholding in competitor Air New Zealand. KRA is proposing domestic flights from the Whenuapai airbase to Wellington as investors look to capitalise on 450,000 residents who must drive up to an hour to Auckland Airport for domestic services. The airline yesterday released details of its intended routes, targeting some of the routes dumped by Air New Zealand late last year. But in 2009 Cabinet knocked back a proposal for commercial flights at Whenuapai following concerns from residents about noise. Last night a spokesman for Mr Brownlee confirmed the Government had no plans to revisit the decision and Whenuapai should remain operating as a military airbase only. Mr Wilson, the founder of the mid-1990s failed Kiwi Travel International Airlines, said he would not give up on the idea and would forge ahead with the airline and with trying to change the Cabinet stance. The airline, backed by Sir George Seymour National College director Nicole Domett and used car dealer Eugene Williams of 2 Cheap Cars, was in the process of buying three aircraft for the new services with plans to launch at the end of the year at the earliest. Two SAAB 34-seat planes would begin flights with a third to be added, but the Civil Aviation Authority must authorise an air operating certificate before KRA can launch. The Royal New Zealand Airforce Base at Whenuapai, a 20-minute drive northwest of Auckland, was once a joint military-commercial airport for almost 20 years until 1965. It was an international gateway to New Zealand before Auckland International Airport was built at Mangere. Similar joint facilities are already well-established in Blenheim according to Mr Wilson. Mr Wilson, who was convicted on four counts of fraud following the collapse of Hamilton-based Kiwi Air in 1996, said the proposal was different to previous commercial activities rejected at Whenuapai. North Harbour Business Association general manager Janine Brinsdon said of the proposal that anything enabling businesses to be more efficient was a bonus. But Upper Harbour Local Board chairman Brian Neeson labelled Mr Wilson a "dreamer" and his idea "insane". Rob O'Neil, defence editor for Pacific Wings, said Whenuapai was a busy military airbase that was already home to more than 1000 personnel along with Orion, Hercules and Boeing 757 aircraft.

"Ewan Wilson has responded by accusing the Government of bias, questioning its role in who uses the military airbase given the government's major shareholding in competitor Air New Zealand." Come on Ewan.... a great idea, the North Shore needs an airport given the difficulty of crossing the harbour at peak times but the Government aren't going to change the status of Whenuapai just because you want to fly there! You need to get a massive swell of public support behind you for it first

26 February 2015

First Photo of LHL

I had a five minute stop at Tauranga today. The most exciting aircraft I photographed was this Cessna...

...the only problem was I couldn't read the rego, though I was fairly sure what it was!!!
So down to the terminal and a shot through Sunair's Aztec DGS to reveal that is Cessna 525 Conquest 1 ZK-LHL.
Cessna  425 was initially registered to Lakeland Helicopters (1989) Ltd in Februay 2006. It was registered to Air Wanganui Commuter from January 2009 till May 2011 but I am not sure if it ever flew for them. It returned to Lakeland Helicopters ownership before being registered to current owners Heli Resources 2012 Limited in May 2013. The photos are my first of ZK-LHL and were taken at Tauranga on 26 February 2015

23 February 2015

EPC again

Following on from the previous post thanks to Allan for this photo of the civilianised NZ5906 as ZK-EPC taken at Ardmore in 1978

21 February 2015

Bristol in the Bushes

While on a staff team building day we visited Woodlyn Park near the Waitomo Caves where we had an opportunity to get a glimpse of ex Royal New Zealand Air Force Bristol Freighter NZ5906 which was civilianised as ZK-EPC (c/n 13059, ex G-18-113). It now sees duty as a motel.

19 February 2015

Three Repaints and a new Airbus

I had a couple of hours to kill at Auckland International earlier this month and caught up with a few repaints...
First up is Mount Cook Airline's ATR-72-500 ZK-MCB
Air Nelson's Bombardier Q300 ZK-NER
Soon to be re-registered on the Australian register is Virgin Australia Boeing 737-800 ZK-PBL
A new one for me was Jetstar's Airbus 320 VH-VFI. All photos taken on 7 February 2015

17 February 2015

Some Thoughts on the New Air Services - Part 1

The three replacement air services following the Air New Zealand withdrawal from Kaitaia, Whakatane and Westport have been announced. There has been a lot of comment written about them on this blog and as I’ve read the comments I have thought some really good points were made. So this is my commentary on what I think of the new services.

But first of all… how good is current the Air New Zealand service to the three centres?

Air New Zealand’s service to Whakatane to Auckland was excellent with four weekday flights to the City of Sails each day… However, if someone wanted to fly to Wellington or vice versa they had to fly via Auckland which meant a 40 minute flight on top of the flight between Wellington and Auckland with transit time in Auckland. So the question becomes whether passengers choose to fly out of Whakatane or drive the one hour to Rotorua and get a cheaper direct flight.

Westport and Kaitaia have up to two twice daily weekday flights to Wellington and Auckland respectively. Unlike most other provincial services the aircraft did not overnight at either Kaitaia or Westport. This meant the flights leave for Westport after the arrival in Wellington of the first flight from Auckland and a number of other provincial cities so it is good for people heading to Westport. However, the northbound service leaves Westport too late for Buller business people to do a full day in the capital or other centres. The reverse is also true in the afternoons, the service is ideal for business people from outside of the region but not so good for the Buller business people returning home. This same pattern is operated for flights to and from Kaitaia, with flights suiting people heading for Kaitaia for the day but not so convenient for Kaitaia people heading to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch for a day’s business.

So what of the new services?

Kaitaia – Great Barrier Airlines has been chosen as the new air service provider to Kaitaia. Great Barrier Airlines is no stranger to Kaitaia. In 1985 they introduced an Auckland-Kaitaia service (see http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2012/01/barrier-connection-great-barrier.html) and they have for some years been operating a Whangarei-Kaitaia service for the District Health Board. GBA are going to operate a Cessna Grand Caravan on the route with 3 flights each weekday and 2 flights each way on the weekend. A Grand Caravan, in my opinion, is a good fit for the Kaitaia service. Sounds Air have proved them a stable and solid workhorse for their Cook Strait services. Being a single pilot and single engine operation will help the economics of the service and GBA have announced that they will offer a flat fare of $180 picking up the Sounds Air model of a flat reasonable fare. GBA will also be able to use the Caravan on its Great Barrier Island services which will keep its usage up and one imagines the Piper Cheiftains would also be a good substitute on the Kaitaia run if needed and certainly until the second Caravan arrives. BUT, the biggest problem I see with the GBA service is the timetable. GBA intend to base the Caravan at Auckland and that means a 6.00am flight from Auckland to Kaitaia. So, no morning connections from any centre south of Wellington and who wants to arrive in Kaitaia about 7.00am for a 9.00am meeting? I think GBA need to rethink their schedule and have the aircraft overnight at Kaitaia. It could then do a 6.30-7.00am departure to Auckland and then return to Kaitaia after the arrival of the first Air NZ/Jetstar flights from Wellington and Christchurch. Then a flight back to Auckland could leave Kaitaia about 9.30-10.00am. This would give the advantage of connecting to the cheaper post-rush hour flights to all destinations south of Auckland on either Jetstar or Air New Zealand. It could also mean the Caravan was available for maintenance or Great Barrier Island flights during the day. In the afternoon the reverse would be flown. I also wonder about the viability of a late Saturday afternoon service and early morning Sunday service unless GBA promote trips to Cape Reinga.

Whakatane – Air Chathams has been chosen as the Whakatane air service provider. Whakatane is the big loser in terms of Air New Zealand’s withdrawal. It currently has four weekday flights a day. While not providing the same frequency as Air NZ the Air Chathams proposal sees an aircraft based at Whakatane and it offers weekday flights departing Whakatane at 7.15am and 4.45pm with return flights departing Auckland at 8.45am and 6.15pm. Two return services will operate on Saturdays and Sundays. Air Chathams will use either a 50-seat Convair 580 or 18-seat Metroliner on the service. Thrifty fares are offered at $89 one-way, saver fares at $149 and economy at $339. There are two questions I have about the proposal. The first is the size of the aircraft… Is the Convair too big? I know it can be substituted with a Metroliner but I wonder if it is time for Air Chats to look at getting a Saab 340 or a Embraer Brasilia. The other comment that I would make is the economy fare IS way too big! That won’t attract the numbers and in the end empty seats don’t pay! Nonetheless I think Air Chathams will be a good fit for Whakatane and I am sure Craig and team will make it work as they have already done on the Chathams service and in Tonga.

Westport – Sounds Air has provided an innovative solution to Westport’s need for a new air service with its purchase of a Pilatus PC-12. Sounds Air will operate 12 return weekday flights to Wellington plus a return service on Sundays. The PC-12, which will be based at Westport, is a high performance single-engine aircraft, single-pilot aircraft.  It has seating for 9 passengers and keeping with the Sounds Air formula there is a set reasonably priced air fare of $199 each way. There are a couple of questions I have about the PC-12 option that have been raised in a couple comments on earlier posts. The PC12 is going to be on the ground at Westport (Tuesday-Thursday) and weekends. As the first comment said, “To get a return on the capital cost the machine is going to have to do a lot more work than that! Not a lot of charter work at Westport!” Another commenter wrote “The problem with the PC12 and Westport is, Westport is not so much of a residential town like Blenheim. When the mines are running well, it’s far more of a mining town as in people are only there to work in the mines. Trouble is, it is international practice for these big outfits like Bathurst, Solid Energy etc not to have employees travel on single engine, single pilot aircraft. So what they're doing with this choice of plane is effectively striking off a good 60%+ of their potential customers flying in and out of Westport.” The first of these comments is certainly true and I suspect the second holds a certain amount of truth. Nonetheless I think Sounds Air have developed a good formula and they are shrewd operators so I think such factors will have been taken into account.

To be continued...

16 February 2015

Financing Westport's New Air Service

Development West Coast (DWC) has announced it will help finance Sounds Air’s purchase of a second back-up aircraft that will be used to fly passengers between Westport and Wellington after Air New Zealand pulls its service in April. DWC chairman John Sturgeon and Sounds Air managing director Andrew Crawford signed the commercial loan agreement in Greymouth yesterday. Mr Sturgeon told The News he was unable to say how much money DWC loaned Sounds Air, or what interest it would charge because Sounds Air was a privately owned business and the details were commercially sensitive. He confirmed the finance was for a second Pilatus PC12 nine-seater aircraft that would arrive in June. Like the first PC12, which arrived from Australia in January, it was previously owned and operated by The Royal Flying Doctor Service of Australia. Last month Sounds Air confirmed the cost of the second aircraft was around $3 million, a similar cost of the first. DWC chief executive Joseph Thomas said DWC was pleased to support the Buller and the wider West Coast region with the investment. “From an economic point of view it is important to provide continuity of air service for the region. We have been impressed with Sounds Air’s track record and are keen to support the airline to make a success of the new route.” Mr Crawford said the loan arrangement was a win-win for everyone. “The support we have had from the Buller District Council (BDC) and DWC has been outstanding. To my mind the old model of an airline coming and trying to make it work is over. To operate an air service to smaller New Zealand communities takes a partnership and the BDC, DWC and Sounds Air are leading the way for what can be achieved.” Mr Crawford was currently in talks with the Grey District Council in regards to the possibility of extending its Westport service to Greymouth. Sounds Air also planned to offer charter flights and was spending about US$65,000 on medical gear, so the planes could provide emergency medical transfers. Buller District Mayor Garry Howard said DWC’s investment would help provide a more comprehensive air service from Westport with affordable airfares. “DWC is making finance available to secure an essential service for the West Coast and I believe it will benefit the whole of the Coast. “Also, the planes Sounds Air will fly are used by Australia’s flying doctors so it may give us the ability to provide medical transfers from Westport, which is a big plus for the region.” Sounds Air’s 26 flights per week service using the first aircraft is due to commence at the end of April following Air New Zealand’s last flight on April 28. Flights between Westport and Wellington will have a set price of $199 each way for adults and $179 for children, including 20kg baggage per person. Flight times will be 40 minutes, 10 minutes less than the service Air New Zealand provided. Sounds Air has committed its service between Wellington and Westport for six years and will look at extending its six-day-a-week service if there is sufficient demand.

The Buller District Council has announced it will cover some of the financial shortfall of Sounds Air’s Westport-Wellington flights should passenger numbers collapse. Mayor Garry Howard told The News that council had negotiated a commercial agreement with Sounds Air that provided a “final backstop” if passenger numbers deteriorated. It became obvious to council that the key to obtaining a secure service with a user-friendly flight schedule was the provision of a limited form of security. “Without that security it was clear that the district would only get a ‘left-over’ service using old planes when those planes were not being used elsewhere.” Council would only become involved if the average occupancy dropped below three seats per flight. That was “exceptionally unlikely”, he said. The agreement stated that the income guarantee would be based on the average number of passengers Sounds Air carried. He pointed out that Air New Zealand currently flew up to 12 passengers per flight. “As Sounds Air will be flying nine-seat planes everyone hopes that they will be near to full on most flights.” Both the council and Sounds Air knew that it was not economical to operate an air service at such a low level. There was no intention that things would ever be allowed to deteriorate to that point, he said. Both parties had agreed to provide early warning conditions and provisions that allowed either party to bring the service to an end well before loadings could drop to such a low level. While the guarantee existed, it had been carefully constructed using the best legal advice to ensure that it never had to come into being. “We are very pleased to have secured New Zealand’s second-largest air service operator. They have been a pleasure to work with. The proposed schedule is a big improvement and we think that Sounds Air will only build and expand their business here over time,” he said.

Source : Westport News

Beech 1900D ZK-EAK wheels up landing

Yesterday we mentioned the retirement from Eagle Airways service of Beech 1900D ZK-EAK. Someone asked if there were any photos of her making a wheelsup landing at Woodbourne back in 2007. Well here is something a little more dramatic than just a photo to record the event.

The "landing" took place on 18 June 2007 after the flight was diverted while flying from Timaru to Wellington as NZ2300 when a landing gear fault was discovered during the early phases of the approach to land. 
The full aviation safety report can be found HERE along with a great photo taken by the Marlborough Express reporter.

After significant repair work ZK-EAK positioned from Woodbourne to Hamilton 09 September 2007 and re-entered service two days later.