17 March 2015

Some Thoughts on the New Air Services - Part 2

This post focuses on the airlines that didn't pick up air routes and the air routes that have not been picked up.

Part 1 of this post, which looks at the airlines who picked up Kaitaia, Whakatane and Westport, can be found at http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2015/02/some-thoughts-on-new-air-services-part-1.html

The operators…

The word that comes to mind in regards to Kiwi Regional is SPANZ. In the 1960s this company tried to establish a national network with lean routes. This is what Kiwi Regional seems to look like. Tauranga-Palmerston North is route the Palmerston North airport company was very keen on. It was last flown by Air Central in the 1980s which operated a Palmerston North-Rotorua-Tauranga service without carrying much traffic. Palmerston North-Blenheim hasn’t  been operated since pre-war Union Airways days and this was when it was part of the service between Auckland and Christchurch and Dunedin and Union Airways’ DH86 Express aircraft were unable to use Wellington. Palmerston North-Nelson offers some potential but unless it is a twice daily service timed for business traffic in both directions I doubt it will generate enough traffic for a Saab. Heading south Nelson-Queenstown is also an untried route. Mount Cook Airlines flew into Nelson in the late 1980s and early 1990s effectively connecting the two centres but my gut feeling is there is not enough tourist traffic to justify linking the two centres. Dunedin-Queenstown is a link that has been operated by a number of operators, usually via Alexandra, but it was always found to be a very lean route. Hamilton-Nelson is a route that has been operated by both Origin Pacific and Eagle Air. For both operators it didn’t stack up. As for Auckland-Hamilton – an hour and a half to drive – Why fly? SPANZ also were looking at a DC-6 service between Auckland and Wellington but never got a licence. So an interesting idea for Kiwi Regional to try to use Whenuapai but if they did get permission I would expect that Air New Zealand and Jetstar would want a piece of the action. So all in all, in my book, Kiwi Regional will be like the bird… it won’t fly. If it was around when the routes came up for grabs it might have had a chance but with a start-up late this year I think the chickens will have flown the coop.

One of the operators that had high hopes for new routes was Sunair. Sunair have a large fleet of Piper Aztecs and were willing to step up to a Cessna Grand Caravan. Sunair survives operating on very lean routes throughout the central North Island and to Great Barrier Island and the Coromandel Peninsula. These operate on a scheduled air taxi service basis, in other words they will fly if they have passengers. For this reason there fares are quite high. Suanir's plan seemed to planning Caravan operations with the same model, assuming not  a full plane and charging high fares to meet costs. The Sounds Air model is better – reasonable fares to encourage full planes. Since Grabaseat high fares with empty seats just won’t work. Interestingly the new model of flights to Great Barrier and Whitianga seem to use cheaper fares and the response from my observations is that Sunair is doing okay on its new routes.

The routes still up for grabs…

This is one route I thought would have been picked up by now. There was talk of an operator flying between Taupo and Christchurch but, Mount Cook tried that some years ago with HS748s as part of their Christchurch-Rotorua service but it didn’t work. Taupo needs to secure a service to Wellington as soon as possible. I heard in the last few days of a regular meeting that is held in Taupo because of its central location that is being moved to Rotorua as there are no direct flights between Taupo and Wellington. My pick of the current operators… Sounds Air using their second Pilatus PC-12 would be the best fit.

Palmerston North-Nelson
Again, I’m surprised no one has picked up this route. It’s had a lot of operators over the years… From memory, NAC (certainly using DC-3s and Friendships??? I’d need to wade through timetables to check), Capital Air Services (Cessna 402), James Air (Cessna 402 and 404), Avcorp Commuter (Cessna 402 and 404), Air Albatross (Cessna 402 and Metroliner), Associated Air (Cessna 402 and 421), Eagle Air (Piper Chieftain and Embraer Bandeirante), Origin Pacific (BAe Jetstream) and Air NZ Link (Beech 1900). I think it has always had reasonable loadings and sure beats transhipping at Wellington. My pick of the current operators… Sounds Air or Air2there using Cessna Caravans.

Though not part of the latest routes up for grabs I still think this route could sustain an air service… Again, the Pilatus PC-12 would seem a good fit so long as the aircraft could find work for the middle of the day.

Reduced frequency routes
This will be the interesting feature of Air New Zealand’s provincial air route restructuring. Take the Hamilton-Palmerston North service as an example. At present there are two Beech 1900 services each weekday to suit business traffic. One Q300 flight is not going to fill the gap. Depending on timings it is not going to suit business traffic in one direction so it opens the possibility of another operator operating the same route. The only problem is Air New Zealand has said they will strongly compete with any such opposition. Interesting times lie ahead.


  1. Re the NSN-PMR-NSN run - don't forget Air Nelson with PA31 Navajo and Chieftains, Metroliner's and of course at present with Q300's.

  2. I really hope that the Wellington - Palmerston North frequency holds up then. We currently often have people fly from Hamilton to Palmerston North in the morning, and fly back in the afternoon (usually with an overnighter). If the service becomes daily, the only alternative will be to fly them via Auckland or Wellington. BUT as we know, the Hamilton - Auckland flights are also for the chop, meaning flight options could end up looking very thin indeed.

  3. A ZQN-DUD connection may be more viable nowadays. it would give Otago and Southland travellers an alternative connection to CHC for departures on international flights.

  4. Would it be fair to say that a possible reason for not attempting to trial a Q300 on the Whakatane and Taupo flights is just pure lack of aircraft in Air NZs fleet and the juggling required to make it work....?

  5. Both Inflite and Air2there have also disappeared... Inflite for Masterton maybe...??? and Air2there.... Ever since learning about thesae small "unknown" airlines that operate in NZ last year.... I have, for some reason??? fallin in love with Air2there... Maybe it is an underdog and a airline that has had a promising start for Sounds air to all but swallowing them up.... Just hope that Air2there has some sort of turn around... A drive to to compete and have a crack at some of these routes broaden their wings and start growing!!

    1. A2T has a problem with aircraft choice. One C208 and a weird number of twins. They have lost focus on what they are trying to achieve. The secret to Sound Air is that they have stuck with one major type for the scheduled operation.

      Anytime you add a twin you double the complexity and usually the cost for no extra revenue. The C406 was a classic example, nice aircraft for the pilots but a bitch to try to make money with. Two PT6, two props, old autopilots and avionics. With the C406 you have a choice of all the seats and very little luggage or the same number of seats as a C208 with baggage and twice the number of engines.

      If you have a single and a twin the pilots start pushing the operation towards a twin so they can get "twin" hours for their next job; plus the operator spends more money keeping its pilot current on its different types. The competence demonstration in the C208 does not cover a Seneca and vice versa so the pilots have to do two checks, twice the time and cost.

    2. A2t has only 2 twins operating. Pa31 and be20. Yes it does mean you have to do more checks but only If you want all your pilots flying single and multi. The other thing with air2 there is one of those twins is no doubt due to contractual requirements. (Air ambo) while a2t and sounds air are similar in some aspects of their flying operations in others they are quite different

  6. I think if Sunair came up with an impacting image (How many people you know off.. when you mention "Mount Cook airlines" they instantly think of that Mount Cook lily..? or same with Ansett) and yeah had a go at competitive pricing as you said Steve and invest in a larger aircraft such as a Caravan... they could have had something a bit more in the bag....