30 December 2009

Air New Zealand Announce End of Christchurch-Westport service

Air New Zealand announced that it’s six month trial air service between Westport and Christchurch was to be cut after Solid Energy removed its support for it. The service, instigated and subsidised by the state owned enterprise cola producer, Solid Energy was launched on 6 July 2009 amid much controversy. While Air New Zealand and Solid Energy had been in discussions for some three years about the possibility of such an air service earlier in 2009 Coastair had commenced a three-day-a-week between Christchurch-Westport-Greymouth-Christchurch morning service with a return service being flown in the later afternoon/early evening. Air New Zealand’s Beech 1900’s flying Christchurch-Westport-Christchurch in the mornings and evenings on Mondays and Fridays marked the death knell of the Coastair service. Vicki Blyth, Solid Energy’s communications director, told the Westport News, “the company had spent enough underwriting the unsuccessful Air NZ trial. ‘Unfortunately the service is not going to wash its face financially and stand on its own two feet. We were only prepared to do it for a short period to prove that it was viable. Unfortunately it's not’.” Eagle Air said the service had attracted average loads of only 55%. The service ceased on December 19 when the mines closed with the expectation it would have resumed in February.

The first scheduled air service between Westport and Christchurch began on 20 December 1968 when NAC launched its trans-alpine Friendship service to Hokitika. Initially the Friendship connected at Hokitika with the DC-3 service from Wellington, Nelson and Westport to Hokitika where passengers changed aircraft to continue on to Westport or Christchurch. Following the upgrading of Westport airport to Friendship standard NAC introduced Friendships on the Wellington-Nelson-Westport-Hokitika-Christchurch flights. Scheduling was not great... the north and south bound services from Westport and Hokitika often departed within 1 to 2 hours of each other making it impossible for passengers to do a day’s business on or off the Coast. Over the years Nelson was dropped from the service and at various times, while operated by NAC and later Air New Zealand, the Westport-Hokitika link was cut severing Westport’s more direct connection to Christchurch rather than via Wellington.
The withdrawal of Friendships from the West Coast on 30 October 1988 in favour of Air Nelson using Metroliners also marked the end of the Westport-Hokitika link. However Air Nelson were prevailed upon to try re-establishing the link with Metroliners and 6 February 1990 and 9 February 1991. Once again the timetable was not conducive to business traffic (Hokitika had 3 Metroliner departures within 1 hour 40) and so the service was scrapped.

In 2002 the Cooperite community from Haupiri, trading as Air West Coast, offered a Greymouth-Westport-Christchurch on Tuesdays and Thursdays using Piper Chieftain or Piper Seneca aircraft. It seems the flights were operated on an as required basis and by April 2003 they were no longer being offered.

Coastair, a subsidiary of Ashburton Air Services Ltd (AAS), began its air service on 8 April 2009 using a 12 seater Cessna 404 Titan, ZK-NDY. Two weeks later Coastair had flown only eight of a scheduled 12 flights between Westport and Christchurch due to a lack of bookings while at that stage no-one from Greymouth had used the service. Coastair said it needed three return passengers per flight to break even. The service was reportedly starting to build before Air New Zealand announced its, what Coastair described as “predatory”, service. Coastair flew its last service to Westport on 6 July 2009, the same day as Eagle Air commenced the new Air New Zealand service. Following the withdrawal of the Air New Zealand service Coastair ruled out a return to Westport stating their own failed venture to Westport last year cost up to $80,000 and they didn’t want to repeat the experience.
Coastair's Cessna 404 Titan, ZK-NDY at Greymouth on Friday the 3rd of July. Coastair's service ended on the following Monday.

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