17 January 2013
Will Mount Cook be on Air NZ's flight path next year
The Hermitage Hotel's general manager has criticised the handling of the flights to Mt Cook, saying tour operators did not have enough lead time. Air New Zealand subsidiary Mount Cook Airline relaunched the thrice-weekly service to Mt Cook on December 23. The trial flights will end on January 27. It is the first time scheduled flights have gone to Mt Cook since 2002, but Hermitage Hotel general manager Nigel Harper said insufficient time had been allowed to make them successful. "It needed to run for six months, not six weeks. Tour operators needed more time to plan, and it needed to be signalled two years ago, rather than a year ago," he said. The service involves a 68-seat ATR aircraft, which has flown from Christchurch to Mt Cook airfield. The aircraft then carries on to Queenstown, with a return service departing mid-afternoon. "They didn't do it right. It was a nice idea, but not well planned, and a bit of a missed opportunity," Mr Harper said. The Hermitage had spent more than $50,000 to get the airport back to the required accreditation, after a long time off-line. It has also run a bus service to the hotel. Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism chief executive Tim Hunter said he would talk to Air New Zealand about the service, but in a "perfect world", it would have been better for it to have run daily, rather than thrice-weekly. An Air New Zealand spokeswoman could not provide passenger numbers. "We have had some great customer feedback about the Mt Cook route, but so far demand has not been as strong as we would have hoped," she said. She acknowledged Mt Cook had been hit by severe weather. The weather gauge at the national park has recorded more than 930mm of rainfall in the last fortnight, and gusts in excess of 170kmh. "Weather conditions at Mt Cook the past few weeks have also caused some issues for us operationally. At the end of the trial we will complete an in-depth analysis of this route before deciding whether to operate a repeat seasonal service next year." However, Mr Harper said he could not attribute any of the Hermitage Hotel's rise in guest nights to the introduction of the flights. "We have really good growth anyway [through our own work]. I don't think Air NZ could work out whether or not it's been a success, because it only ran for six weeks."