15 March 2012

Westport Miffed with Eagle's Air NZ Link Service

Air New Zealand’s flights between Westport and Wellington are too expensive and too often cancelled for inadequate reasons, say Buller’s Mayor and a company chief executive. “Westport’s treated like a backwater and it doesn’t deserve to be,” mayor Pat McManus said. He understood Air NZ often cancelled Westport flights because of a disruption elsewhere in its schedule. “They call it an ‘engineering issue’ or a ‘weather issue’, when we know fi ne well it’s not.” Westport was lucky to have the service, but Air NZ’s attitude to cancellations seemed to be “it won’t matter because it’s Westport”, Mr McManus said. Westport people were probably too slow to complain. “Maybe we do need to start making more noise about it, and start bombarding them, and say ‘why do we have to put up with this?’.”  He said reliable flights were even more important now Westport had doctors commuting by air. Buller Health clinical leader Dr Paul Cooper flies in and out of Westport from Palmerston North every week, and some specialists fly in for clinics at Buller Hospital. Mr McManus said the cost of seats between Westport and Wellington was unfair. Local people often flew in and out of Nelson because flights were cheaper, more convenient and reliable. Rather than offering cheap ‘Grab a seats’ Air NZ should decide how much it required to run the service and set sensible, stable prices. Decent transport systems followed health, education and community facilities, in attracting people to live here, Mr McManus said.

‘It does Westport no good’

The chief executive of electricity retailer, Pulse Utilities New Zealand, slammed Westport’s air service. “It’s pathetic and it does Westport no good at all,” said Dene Biddlecombe. “If you were looking to invest or connecting a business with a Westport business, for a business person it’s a major impediment for that type of relationship. “I’m sure it must impact, directly and indirectly, on the Westport community and their economy.” Auckland-based Pulse, a Buller Electricity subsidiary, paid dearly to fly its directors between Auckland and Westport, Mr Biddlecombe said. “You could fly to Hong Kong for the sum.” The frequent cancellations added insult to injury. His return flights had been cancelled twice in the three times he had fl own into Westport between December and the end of February. “One was because of weather – there was questionable weather. The second was for ‘engineering requirements’… I felt sorry for the lady at the airport who had to pass the news on to very angry travellers.” Mr Biddlecombe said no details were provided on the ‘engineering’ problem, which sounded like a common explanation. Both cancelled flights had between 12 and 14 passengers, and he was among those who elected to board a minibus, provided by Air NZ, to Nelson. However, it arrived too late for any connecting flights to Auckland. Air NZ paid his overnight Nelson accommodation for the ‘engineering’ cancellation, but refused to do so for the weather cancellation, he said. Passengers also had to stump up for their own taxis to Nelson airport. “It just becomes your problem.”

Air NZ rejects criticism

The Westport service is operated by Air NZ subsidiary, Eagle Air. General manager Carrie Hurihanganui rejected the criticism. “Firstly we are disappointed that Mayor Pat McManus has not contacted Eagle Air to raise these concerns with us as we are always happy to discuss any issues directly. “We reject the somewhat bizarre suggestion that we treat Westport as a ‘backwater’. “Westport, whilst one of the smaller airports within our domestic network, receives the same care and consideration as any other in terms of our scheduling, services and customer care.” Ms Hurihanganui said it was untrue to infer that Westport flights were cancelled because “it’s Westport”. “There is obviously little we can do about the weather and the majority of cancellations into and out of Westport are for this reason. “These decisions are not made lightly but we will not compromise our operational integrity or customer safety, which is paramount and non-negotiable. Certainly Westport is not singled out.” She said criticism of the fare costs was unfair. “The average one-way fare between Westport and Wellington is currently $154. This is just $27 more than it was in 2007, despite the fact that fuel has doubled in price over the past three years. “The lowest lead-in fare on Westport-Wellington is $89. This is the same as the lowest lead-in fares on Auckland-Wanganui and Auckland-Gisborne, which are similar length sectors.” The airline priced to cover the cost of operating the service, she said. Small aircraft were more expensive to operate per passenger because the costs, such as crew, ground handling and airport charges, were spread across a 19-seat aircraft rather than a 133-seat 737. “As a result, Westport-Wellington has been at best a break-even operation.” The airline currently had 8 percent more customers flying in and out of Westport than it did a year ago. “We see the 8 percent growth as very positive and we look forward to continuing to support the Westport community as we have done to date.”

One return flight cancelled a week

Air NZ figures indicate about one return flight between Westport and Wellington is cancelled every week during summer, when weather is generally more favourable. Airline spokeswoman Tracy Smeaton said 13 return flights between Westport and Wellington were cancelled in the three months to February 29, mostly for weather. Cancellations were similar to the same period in previous years, she said. She would not reveal the time, date and reason for each cancellation, the percentage of flights cancelled compared to the national percentage, or the number of passengers disrupted. She said Air NZ lacked the resources to search historical flight data for the details and passenger information was “commercially sensitive”. Asked why, when Air New Zealand has no competition on its Westport-Wellington route, she did not respond. Air NZ’s web site shows that unless Westport passengers book flights weeks in advance, they may pay more for return flights to Wellington than for flights to Australia. Westport passengers booking today would pay at least $439 to fly to Wellington next Wednesday, returning Thursday. That’s almost $200 more than a return flight from Nelson and only $100 less than a return flight from Christchurch to Sydney on the same days.

Source : Westport News, 14 March 2012

Westport is not the only place complaining... Masterton and Blenheim have been raising the same issues... The Beech 1900s certainly have a heavy workload and they are not getting any younger - one wonders just how much spare capacity Eagle has if one breaks down... or as I hear on the grapevine, more than one go unserviceable!


  1. Has the Westport service always been this unreliable, eg. The Friendship days? Does anyone know what the average Wellington - Westport fare was back in these days?

  2. didn't quite a few get grounded at one time for some reason earlier this year?? I seem to remember someone talking about it.

  3. If people want a fare for the price of a bus journey... Take the bus!