23 November 2014

Roaring off to the Chatham Islands

After catching Air Chathams' Convair ZK-CIF departing Timaru last week http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2014/11/take-off-from-timaru.html I was delight to get ZK-CIB departing Wellington on 19 November 2014. Looking forward to seeing the map on the tail again !

22 November 2014

Sunair Checks out Whakatane

Sunair's chief executive Dan Power flew into Whakatane earlier this week to talk to representatives from the Whakatane District Council and the Eastern Bay Chamber of Commerce.  Initially Sunair was looking at operating two scheduled daily return services between Whakatane and Auckland using a Cessna Caravan. Sunair is also offering to provide connections to Gisborne and Napier but their last attempt to include Whakatane didn't generate much traffic.

Dan Power said “We wanted to gain from the business community what they want from an air service so we’ve got local input and can work on schedules and prices.” A survey is planned for the business community and Air New Zealand has provided Sunair with statistics on the Whakatane-Auckland route. This seems to indicate four return flights a day would be needed, not two. If it extended its operation to Whakatane, Sunair would have a base at the airport and two pilots living in the community. 

Meanwhile locally-based East Bay Aviation is interested in expanding their businesses to include scheduled flights to Auckland. A third unnamed company is also looking at servicing Whakatane. 

New Helicopter Base for Inflite Charter

Inflite Charters Limited is opening a new base at Taupo Airport. In conjunction with well-known local operators, Toby and Cushla Clark, and Vaughan Nairn (Base Manager), Inflite are delighted to be expanding helicopter and charter plane services into the Central North Island region. The new operation will be based at the Izard Air complex at 1159 Anzac Memorial Drive, Taupo Airport. This stunning facility, built by Richard Izard, is well suited for Inflite’s operations and allows a great opportunity for growth, as the business establishes in the region. Scenic helicopter flights, lodge transfers, golfing, fishing and vineyard trips are available immediately in our AS355 Twin Squirrel and Robinson R44 helicopters. Our helicopter flights can operate from the Taupo Airport and Taupo harbour-side helipads, as well as regular private landing locations. With the enhanced safety of twin-engine performance, the Squirrel AS355 offers a roomy and comfortable cabin capable of accommodating up to five passengers. This very sought after helicopter is especially appreciated for its VIP, corporate and tourist flight capabilities. The Robinson R44 helicopter comfortably carries up to three passengers, and offers excellent visibility through the bubble canopy, making it an ideal aircraft for exploring the stunning mountain, geothermal and lake scenery. Having high quality and reliable helicopter and charter plane services in this thriving business community and energetic tourist destination is imperative, and Inflite look forward to providing exceptional service to locals and visitors alike. Further announcements will be made shortly regarding new scenic flight products and packages, charter plane options.

Source : Inflite Charters Press Release

21 November 2014

Further Taupo Reaction

Air New Zealand's attempts to defend its decision to pull out of the Taupo-Wellington route have been labelled a "waste of time" by those attending a meeting with businesses in the tourist town. The meeting was held yesterday after the airline announced cuts to its regional services. Air NZ chief sales and commercial officer Cam Wallace told the crowd of about 50 people that using the 19-seater aircraft being phased out lost the company $26 per person per flight. This resulted in a $1 million loss each month, and it was not economically viable to offer the larger 50-seater service. "Taupo to Wellington - that's not a market, we don't want to be in [it]." But those present struggled to understand how the service was not financially viable, with some asking why an Auckland-Taupo-Wellington route could not be added. But these ideas didn't fly, with Air NZ reps drawing attention instead to the benefits of the Auckland route. Taupo District Council member and business owner Rosie Harvey said she was sick of it being "all about Auckland". "We're [Taupo] the events capital of the North Island. It's time we were looked after." Wallace made it clear Air NZ had no interest in re-entering the Taupo to Wellington market, stating its future was more looking at different options for the route. "We are more than supportive of any player coming in, and more importantly we will help support them." Mayor David Trewavas said the council had had a few approaches from people looking to step in. Wairaki resort manager Kathy Guy said with the Wellington flights ending from April 2015, and the Auckland to Taupo flights not going to 50-seaters until February 2016, the region was being left short. "Our business had a huge exponential increase, now this has been a real blow for us. " . . . Trying to get people into Taupo has become so difficult, they're saying, 'it's all too hard and we're going to go somewhere else'."

20 November 2014

Inflite Interested in Kaitaia

Another aviation firm has put its hand up to fly the Kaitaia-Auckland route in the wake of Air New Zealand's shock announcement it plans to pull out of the Far North town. Inflite, an Auckland charter company with two 19-seater aircraft and a history of flying to the Far North, contacted the Far North District Council and Far North Holdings this week to signal its interest. The company had already been approached by councils in other towns which have lost air services in earlier cutbacks by the national carrier. Inflite's advantage is that it is the only third-level airline already operating planes of the same size as the Beechcraft 1900D Air New Zealand uses on the Kaitaia run. Tauranga-based Sunair Aviation, the first company out of the blocks, has a fleet of six-seater Pipers but is considering leasing a 12-seater Cessna Caravan if it wins the right to fly the Kaitaia route. Inflite charter manager Paul Aston said it was still early days and the company needed to work out whether the level of demand warranted daily flights or three a week. "On face value it stacks up. If it does, we'll be in, boots and all. The fit for us in Kaitaia is very strong, more than in other regions." Inflite specialises in corporate and tourism charters using its two Jetstream J32EP aircraft. It has previously flown between Kaitaia and Auckland as a back-up for Air New Zealand and has good links with the Far North tourism industry. Mr Aston said it was too early to say what flights would cost but there were likely to be only one or two fare levels, unlike the complex multi-level system used by Air New Zealand. The departure time could be adapted to Kaitaia's needs. Inflite is flying to Kaitaia on Friday with 16 charter passengers and returning on Saturday to pick up another 12. The twin-engined Jetstream turboprop will be parked on the runway in Kaitaia from about 4-5pm on Friday for anyone who wants a look. With the plane originally due to fly back empty the company has offered the seats free of charge to members of Kaitaia's business community and, via a GP, Kaitaia residents who need to get to Auckland this weekend but cannot afford to fly. A very limited number of seats are left. Anyone who wants a free one-way flight to Auckland, departing about 5pm on Friday, can call Mr Aston on 027 230 4407. First come, first served.

April Start for Q300s to Wanganui

Wanganui needs to heed the message that comes with Air New Zealand's decision to change the way it will be flying to and from regional centres in the next six months. Unprepared to continue carrying rising costs, the airline has called time on the Eagle Airways' Beech 1900D aircraft that flies to 15 regional cities and towns. The harshest blow has been delivered to Kaitaia, Whakatane and Westport, which lose their services altogether. In the reshuffle, Air NZ will gradually phase out the Beech 19-seater turbo props, replacing them with the 50-seater Bombardier Q300 planes and Wanganui will see the first of them on a regular service from April. From February 2016, the Beech will no longer come here, with the Bombardier taking over the service completely. Air NZ chief executive Christopher Luxon told the Chronicle that while they were tough calls, rising costs and increasing losses on the regional routes called for drastic action. Mr Luxon said independent research showed the national carrier provided a good regional service by world standards but the economics of running the service "are really tough". "We have three regional airlines running three different turbo-prop fleets. Mt Cook operates 68-seat aircraft, Air Nelson operates 50-seat aircraft and Eagle Airways operates 19-seat aircraft," he said. "But over the past five years the cost of operating our regional services has increased significantly." Mr Luxon said fuel costs were up 14 per cent, navigation charges had climbed 23 per cent and the company was paying 46 per cent more in airport charges. "These three costs alone account for 40 per cent of our regional cost base, yet we've worked very hard not to pass these increases on to our customers. In fact, our average regional fare is down two per cent in nominal terms over the same period and that's more than 10 per cent when adjusted for inflation." He said the difficulty was simply one of seats and their take-up, and the 19-seat Beech planes - the smallest aircraft in the fleet - were the dearest to operate on a costs-per-seat basis. "Eagle Airways has been losing more than $1 million a month for the past two years. That's the equivalent of losing $26 on every one-way ticket sold." But he said even taking these economic realities into account, there was still a perception that regional fares were unjustifiably high. "In some cases, customers just aren't willing to pay what it costs to operate to their town. There's also been a suggestion that our recent strong commercial result has come at the expense of the regions. This is simply not true." He said Air NZ's improved annual result was largely due to the turnaround of its international network. And he said it was that turnaround that was giving the company the leverage to reinvest in its regional fleet. As a result, it has ordered four new 68-seat Mt Cook aircraft worth $100 million, bringing the total spend on new aircraft for that fleet to $300 million over the past four years. Mr Luxon said it means the airline would be putting the larger planes on to routes where the demand was greater, and moving the remaining routes to 50-seat aircraft, where there was sufficient customer demand. "These aircraft have significantly better operating economics, partly because fixed costs can be spread across more passengers," he said. He said this better "seating economics" meant fares on the regional routes, including those like Wanganui being serviced by the Bombardier Q300s, would drop 15 per cent. "That's exactly what's happening in Wanganui. From February 2016, Wanganui customers will be able to access services in larger aircraft and benefit from cheaper fares." The Bombardier service would increase the number of seats available between Wanganui and Auckland by 75 per cent. Mr Luxon made it clear that some smaller markets that struggled to support a 19-seat operation could not be expected to provide sufficient demand to support 50-seat planes. It was on this basis that those three towns have been cut from services altogether, while a number of other services will end in April. While Mr Luxon is not saying it in so many words, the message to Wanganui is clear enough - use it or lose it.

PBK at Christchurch

Captured at Christchurch on 15 November 2014 was Virgin Australia's Boeing 737-800 ZK-PBK

19 November 2014

Competition for Sunair being the Kaitaia Air Service Provider

Two aviation companies are now vying for the right to fly from Kaitaia after Air New Zealand's shock decision to quit the Far North town. The national carrier announced last week it would axe its Kaitaia flights as of April next year, a decision decried by business, farming, health and political leaders. Tauranga company Sunair Aviation was the first to throw a lifeline to stranded Far North air travellers but a second, as yet unnamed company is also keen to take Air New Zealand's place. Far North Holdings chief executive Andy Nock said the council-owned company was evaluating two proposals for a Kaitaia air service to make sure the town got the best flights possible in terms of capacity and departure times. The offers were confidential for now. The upside of Air New Zealand's withdrawal was that Kaitaia could end up with a better service for business travellers with earlier departures and later returns, Mr Nock said. Sunair, which specialises in routes between provincial towns not flown by the national carrier, was the first to contact the Far North District Council and Far North Holdings. Its aircraft - mainly twin-engined, six-seater Piper Aztecs - are even smaller than the 19-seater Beechcraft 1900Ds Air New Zealand says are too small to be economic, but the firm believes its lower overheads will make the route viable. Describing itself as "the big little airline", Sunair has 10 twin-engined aircraft serving eight regional towns and is owned by Tauranga couple Dan and Bev Power. Mrs Power said Sunair would offer two flights a day timed to allow a full business day in the destination city. The number of flights could be increased if there was sufficient demand. It was too early to give an indication of cost but she hoped they would be similar to current Air New Zealand fares. The company had already spoken with Mayor John Carter and Mr Nock. Both were enthusiastic and supportive, she said. The level of airport fees charged, and choosing the right size aircraft, were crucial to making the service viable. The firm was considering bringing in 12-seater Cessna Caravans. Mrs Power said there was a social obligation to ensure Kaitaia continued to have air transport but but it also had to work financially. "We see this as a business opportunity. We think we can make it work, we have less costs, less overheads than Air New Zealand." One of the complaints about the current service is the departure time, with some Kaitaia business people saying they have to drive to Kerikeri to catch an early flight and get a full day in Auckland. Mrs Power said the departure time had yet to be set but would have to fit in with other flights. "Each region wants the early departure. We'll take that on board and try to make it work as best we can." It is not the company's first attempt at setting up an air service in Northland. In 2007 Sunair tried to start up a Whangarei-Auckland service in alliance with Whangarei air training school Quantum Aviation. It folded a few months later because a government policy change meant Quantum's students were no longer eligible for student allowances or loans, and because the company struggled to compete head-to-head with Air New Zealand. The 25-year-old company currently flies from Hamilton, Tauranga, Rotorua, Napier, Gisborne, Whitianga, Great Barrier and Auckland. It has also offered to replace Air New Zealand's Whakatane flights. Mr Carter said the council would do everything it could to retain daily flights from Kaitaia, which were an important part of the Far North's transport infrastructure and helped keep Te Hiku on the tourist map. Northland MP Mike Sabin said he was heartened to hear of Sunair's plans following Air New Zealand's shock announcement. He had spoken with the company's chief executive, who told him Air New Zealand would work with the replacement airline and airport operators to ensure a smooth transition. - An aviation insider describes Sunair as "a quiet achiever" which has survived 25 years in a tough industry by "keeping out of the way of the big boys" and avoiding major incidents. However, if Sunair were to take on the Kaitaia route it would probably need a larger aircraft such as the 12-seater Cessna Caravan. Other third-level airlines being discussed in aviation circles as possible replacements for Air New Zealand on the Kaitaia, Whakatane or Westport routes include Paihia-based Salt Air, Whakatane-based East Bay Aviation, Great Barrier Airlines, Fly My Sky, Wellington's Sounds Air and Auckland corporate flight specialist Inflite Charters. Salt Air operated daily flights between Kerikeri and Auckland's North Shore from 2008-12.

Far North Holdings chief executive Andy Nock is right on the button. Kaitaia might have a far better service with another operator with better times for Kaitaia business people. A good example is Sounds Air on Wellington-Wanganui route. Air NZ operated one Beech 1900 flight each day... Sounds Air started off offering one flight a day and has subsequently increased it to two flights each day. The service is still building but Sounds Air is able to be more flexible and attuned to the community's need in a way Air NZ is not. Negotiate well Kaitaia!

18 November 2014

TV3's coverage on Sunair's proposals for Kaitaia and Whakatane

If you missed Campbell Live tonight here is the link to the clip about Sunair's proposed services to Whakatane and Kaitaia...


My thoughts...

  • No talk on a Caravan... will Aztecs inspire confidence?
  • Fares sound high... A Sounds Air type model of reasonable fares will fill seats

Sunair's Thoughts on Airport and Airways Charges

Airport charges are a big part of the reason for high regional airfares, says Dan Power, the chief executive of regional airline Sunair Aviation, which is looking to pick up Air New Zealand's abandoned routes. The Tauranga-based airline is looking to start flights to Kaitaia and Whakatane, after the national carrier flagged it will end operations from the regional airports next year, citing lack of patronage and high costs. Sunair has been operating for the past two decades, offering regular twice or more daily flights on its 15-plane fleet between regional North Island hubs like Hamilton, Gisborne, Rotorua, Whitianga and Napier. "Air New Zealand is very strong in the regional market and it's a very good operator and quite a formidable competitor, should you want to make it one," Power told BusinessDesk. "Due to its strength in the market place, certainly Sunair would not want to compete with Air New Zealand. "For us to take on routes being exited by Air New Zealand in the North Island is not difficult for us," he said. Most travellers on Sunair are businesspeople flying between regional centres, which would be the kind of service Sunair would operate for Kaitaia and Whakatane. Sunair hasn't begun formal negotiations with Kaitaia or Whakatane airport, which are both owned by the local councils, but said airports had a role to play if they wanted to keep regional routes. "I think small airport owners, which are usually the councils, have to start treating airports as amenties to their communities as they used to, and maybe step back from trying to make them a revenue-earning part of the council, because it is just not working," Power said. "As the airports get less operators they charge more and more to the remaining ones and its just a never- ending spiral to oblivion." The regional airline saw opportunity where Air New Zealand saw losses, Power said. The national carrier announced earlier this month it was ditching seven regional routes, as the cost of maintaining its 19-seat aircraft fleet has cost more than $1 million a month over the past two years. Airlines pay service charges to the state-owned air controller Airways Corp, as well as landing fees to airports. Airports have an interest in keeping airfares low to boost traveller numbers. In August, the New Zealand Airports Association called on the Commerce Commission to regulate Air New Zealand's regional fares on routes where the national carrier had an effective monopoly, after it announced a 45 percent uplift in annual profit to $262 million, its third consecutive year of earnings growth. That was before the national carrier announced it was dropping some unprofitable regional routes. "The reason why, in part, Air New Zealand and other operators are beginning to really struggle with thin routes in New Zealand is simply because of the rising cost of infrastructure placed on this industry. We've seen 50 percent increases in airport charges in the last two years," Power said. "These really high costs of using airports and Airways is what's making it difficult for Air New Zealand and ourselves. People often say 'why are regional airfares so expensive?' well that's why: because our costs are so high dealing with the Airways Corporation and the airport companies." Airports themselves are regulated by the anti-trust regulator, as they're considered to have an effective monopoly and are required to disclose financial statements and business plans, as well as keeping returns under 8 percent to limit excessive profits.