24 June 2014
In the Quest for an Air Service for Masterton
John Hayes, the Member of Parliament for Wairarapa has a regular "From the House" column in the Wairarapa News. The issue of the 18th of June 2014 gives an interesting account on the attempts to find a new air service to Masterton. I hope these attempts come to fruition...
A hoarding appeared in Featherston this week. It proclaims "Come to Palmerston and fly to Oz". Well — no! Constituents are telling me they just want to fly between Masterton and Auckland. Its nine months since Air New Zealand (Air NZ) announced they would be pulling out of the Masterton-Auckland air service. For several reasons it hasn't been possible to keep the community fully briefed on developments but the situation has now resolved to the point that a summary of what has happened can be provided and a path for the future set out. Readers of this column will know that immediately after Air NZ's announcement I pulled together a group of people to find another service provider. Seven companies were approached. Pretty quickly it became apparent that there were two possible providers, Air Chathams and Vincent Aviation. The proposals were quite different. Air Chathams could provide a Metroliner which had been withdrawn from Tonga. The Vincent proposal involved the community either buying or leasing a SAAB aircraft which would then be operated by the company. Both planes fly at 20,000 feet, above the weather, and each covers the distance in about 70 minutes, a similar service to that provided by ANZ. The SAAB is a bigger plane which can lift about 30 people from the existing runway. The Metroliner seats 18 people but the Masterton runway is both narrow and short, meaning the plane can land with a load of 18 but can only lift 13-14 people from the existing strip. All aircraft options need to sell tickets in the $280-$300 range to cover costs. Regional services will never get access to discounted fares at the price level available on the big jets used. The equation is pretty simple when you spread the cost of two pilots and flight crew over 15, 18 or the 150 passengers carried by an A300 Jet. The Metroliner costs about $3000per hour of flight and the SAAB $3500. By last Christmas eve our group had moved to the point that the preferred operator was Air Chathams. The company offered the least cost option and owned the Metroliner which had been fully renovated including with new seats. Importantly Air Chathams have been in business since 1987 without accident or financial difficulty. The SAAB option would require the community to find between $800,000 to $1.3 million to fund the purchase an aircraft or to lease a plane at a monthly charge of $30,000. It was understood that the Masterton airstrip would need to be extended by 70 metres at a cost of $150,000 to allow the Metroliner to lift off with an additional 2 passengers. This adds $300,000 to operating revenue. Air Chathams were prepared to begin a service in February because the Metroliner was expected to breakeven with a load of 12 passengers but on the understanding the runway would be extended. Both Air Chathams and Vincent had indicated they wanted local "buy in", through the establishment of a 50/50 locally owned company which would market the service and share the profit or loss of the venture. Vincent wanted a company capitalised with $400,000, Air Chathams half that. In January a meeting of interested people decided that it would be better to run with the SAAB because the plane was larger and funds in excess of $500,000 were offered locally to support a service. Vincent Aviation expected to begin the service by late March. Last month complications arose with the Vincent receivership in Australia. We now have been without a service for almost six months and realistically face another six to eight weeks' delay. There is an economic cost to the community from this breakdown and a new operator faces a much more difficult start up because businesses are buying discounted tickets from Palmerston North as far ahead as November; it will take time for a new operator to recover those passengers and re-establish full loads. It's good to report that there is now an agreement amongst the interested parties to resume a dialogue with Air Chathams who confirm they are prepared to re-engage with the proposal which was on the table last December. The company advises that if demand for the service is such that a larger plane can operate on a commercial basis they will be prepared to upscale to a larger aircraft. We now need to find shareholders prepared to contribute about $100,000 to establish a 50/50 limited liability company with Air Chathams to market and operate a Masterton-Auckland service. Air Chathams see this contribution as an indicating sup-port for the service from the Wairarapa community. As soon as a joint venture company is formed it will put a proposal to the Masterton District Council asking it to extend the runway to increase the passenger take off load of the Metroliner. When that undertaking is secured Air Chathams advise they will begin a service two weeks later. It's good that we can now move forward as a united community and I seek your support with capital and help to reinstate this air-link. If you are prepared to help please phone my office 370 1213 and leave your name or send your details to my email firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be in touch. Maori have a whakatauki or saying Mā te huruhuru te manu ka rere, "it's the feathers that make the bird fly". Each of us is a feather. We need to work together to get Air Chathams flying in the Wairarapa sky. I hope you will help make this happen. Let me know what you think. Send an email to email@example.com