01 March 2015

Kiwi Regional's Queenstown Plans

Plans for a daily air service between Dunedin and Queenstown have attracted plenty of early support, but may face hurdles before they can fly. Kiwi Regional Airlines (KRA) has announced plans for a Dunedin/Queenstown/Nelson and return service seven days a week. KRA is the work of former Dunedin man Ewan Wilson, who was in the city yesterday to discuss the plan with Dunedin International Airport chief executive John McCall. Mr Wilson said regional New Zealand had been left off the air route map, and his service would make travel between regional centres fast and affordable, plus create extra employment and tourism opportunities. Mr Wilson was behind the failed Kiwi Air, which collapsed in 1996 after intense competition, resulting in him being convicted of fraud. Yesterday he said he was convinced the service would fly, this time with planes owned by the company. The plan got full support from Mr McCall, who said there was nothing preventing the service using Dunedin airport. Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) chief executive Scott Paterson also backed the move, but said the airline was yet to request a slot at the busy airport, and would need to deal with a curfew in midwinter that meant no flights after 4.30pm. Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee turned down the fledgling regional airline's plans to operate domestic flights from Whenuapai air base, northwest of Auckland, to Wellington. Mr Wilson, now a Hamilton city councillor, said his airline would take advantage of routes Air New Zealand was about to pull out of, and those it did not want to service. He stressed this time he would not be opposing the national carrier. Instead, Kiwi Regional Airlines would complement services already in place. ''Last time we lost that battle,'' he said. ''The Ewan Wilson of today is someone who has learned a lot in the last 20 years.'' KRA would buy its own aircraft, something he expected to happen towards the end of the regulatory process later this year. The financial backing was in place to do that. Mr Wilson said the service he proposed would leave Dunedin early for Queenstown, allowing travellers to link up with international flights. It would then head to Nelson and return later in the day. Consideration was also being given to extending the route from Dunedin to Invercargill in future. He would not reveal possible ticket prices, which he said were commercially sensitive. Mr McCall said the airport had been working with the company for a few weeks. A Dunedin-to-Queenstown route was ''a connection we've certainly had on our radar for a very long time''. The difference between past Dunedin-to-Queenstown flights was the opportunity for a service with a pressurised aircraft, rather than a general aviation aircraft. ''It's a totally different proposition to what we've had before. ''It's one we believe the market has been asking for for a very long time.'' Enterprise Dunedin director John Christie said in his former role as chief executive of the Otago Chamber of Commerce, he had gathered plenty of information on the issue through surveys of businesses. ''From a corporate perspective we know there is a demand there for services between Dunedin and Queenstown.'' He anticipated users would include those from professional services, such as lawyers, architects and accountants. People at the moment were either going back and forth by car, or had offices in Dunedin and Queenstown, or Wanaka. Health workers were another sector that would use the service, which would also provide opportunities for both business and tourism development, and for Dunedin to bring Australian visitors from Queenstown. There was also an opportunity to bring people from both Queenstown and Nelson to Dunedin for events. Flights to Queenstown also made international flights more accessible for Dunedin people. Most international flights can only be taken from Christchurch. Mr Paterson said Queenstown airport had ''slot co-ordination'' so flight times had to be finalised before KRA could use the runway. The airport would ''most likely'' have capacity for the flights, depending on the time, though winter could be difficult. ''That Dunedin-Queenstown leg has always been talked about. ''We have a lot of consultants, our own, going back and forth. ''Queenstown-Nelson is another route that has been spoken about in the past. I see some logic. ''We'd be delighted to handle them, see them arrive.''

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