22 January 2015
Sounds Air will provide Westport’s new air service after Air New Zealand bails out in April. The Buller District Council and the airline today announced a six-year partnership for the new air service. Pending Civil Aviation approvals, Sounds Air will take over on April 28 – the day Air New Zealand exits. Sounds Air has bought a nine-seater pressurised Pilatus PC12 for the new service. It will fly between Westport and Wellington daily, except Saturdays, offering 26 flights a week compared to Air New Zealand’s 20. Mondays and Fridays – the busiest days of the week - will feature three return flights. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays will provide two return flights. The first flight will leave Westport at 6.15am. The last flight will return at 6.40pm. Air New Zealand flights leave Westport later in the morning and return earlier in the evening – a timetable that hasn’t suited businesspeople in particular. On Sundays, Sounds Air will offer an evening return flight. Air New Zealand currently offers a lunchtime flight. The Sounds Air plane, and its pilots, will be based in Westport. The 40-minute flight – 10 minutes faster than Air New Zealand’s – will cost $199 each way for adults and $179 for children, including a 20kg baggage allowance per person. Unlike Air New Zealand’s prices, Sounds Air’s don’t fluctuate depending on when passengers book. A joint council/Sounds Air statement said the Pilatus was a high-class turbo prop, single-engine passenger plane, supported by renowned Swiss company Pilatus International. “The plane has a proven track record and is currently used extensively in both Australia and America. We are excited to bring it to New Zealand for scheduled services. “It is an excellent fit for both the volume of passengers we have and the weather and terrain in our region. The plane is fully pressurised and features the latest technology and safety measures. Passengers will notice high levels of comfort and low noise.” The statement said the Westport service heralded a new era in air services for the West Coast. “The advantages for Coasters are a schedule which we determine, a guaranteed six-year term with rights of renewal, and the potential to negotiate further flights and/or destinations as demand dictates, all within the security of a long-term partnership. “We are now able to deliver an improved schedule to residents which meets the needs of our business community, alongside options for recreational users.”
Cost to ratepayers?
It appears the service could come at a cost to ratepayers. The News has been told the council has guaranteed a minimum number of seat sales and will have to put up cash if the number falls short. Buller Mayor Garry Howard declined to comment today. “We will be releasing details of how ratepayers are assisting ensuring this service has come about within the next two weeks. It’s fair to say that we have made some obligations but there’s no money being put up front and there’s no subsidy of air fares.” Air New Zealand averaged 12 seats sold on each 19-seat Westport flight, he said. The News has spoken to a number of people who said they would not fly on a single-engine, single pilot, nine-seater plane. Mr Howard is sure the new air service will win them over. “These planes are used by the flying doctor in Australia. There’s 55 of them in operation. Why would the flying doctor use a service that isn’t as safe as possible?” Civil Aviation data showed the incident rates for single-engine planes were equivalent to those for twin-engine aircraft, he said. “It will take away any concerns people have.” At least one of the two other airlines vying for the service had proposed using a 19-seater plane. Mr Howard said the other airlines had put forward some good options, but in each case a Westport service would have had to fit with their other scheduling. The other airlines were only prepared to “give it a try and see what happened” – which could have left Westport in the same position as it faced with Air New Zealand’s withdrawal. “If Air New Zealand can’t operate a 19-seater economically, what makes us think another company can operate a 19-seater economically? “We were after a bigger, longer-term, secure service.” The council had set the current schedule and would be able to change it, because the plane would be based here. The aircraft would also be available for charter work, he said. “This is the start of a process. More flights can be scheduled and further services will be looked at… It’s really exciting what it opens up, not only for Westport but potentially for Karamea.” Sounds Air was in the processing of buying a second Pilatus PC12 as a back-up. Mr Howard said the council would be releasing further “really good news” soon on further benefits of the new service. He and Westport Airport Authority chief executive Sonia Cresswell also acknowledged Air New Zealand’s support during the transition. They said the airline had shared important data and gifted equipment to the Buller council, which will help ensure a seamless transition between the two airlines. Customers will be able to book through the Sounds Air website from Monday, January 26 www.soundsair.com or via free phone 0800 505 005 (New Zealand only) or phone 0064 3520 3080
Source : Westport News, 22 January 2014
Posted by Steve L at 10:04 AM