29 April 2015

Local Coverage of Air Chathams' New Service to WHK

An open day to launch the new Eastern Bay air service to be operated from today by Air Chathams at Whakatane Airport is being termed a huge success after thousands flocked to it to take in the fun. Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne said he had worked at the event on Sunday collecting the gold coin donation entry fee as part of his duty with the Whakatane Sunrise Rotary group and he was astounded at the number of people who turned up. “It just blew us away. Whakatane came out in force to welcome Air Chathams – there is no two ways about it.” Mr Bonne said he spent a lot of time on the entry and exit gate during the day. “I would ask people as they left what they thought and they said they thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a great weekend – the community came out in support of the 100 years since Gallipoli and then they came out to the airport to have a bit of leisure time.” He said the open day marked a good start to the relations between Whakatane and the Chatham Islands. “The Chatham’s mayor was unable to come because of Anzac Day responsibilities … his Dad was in the Maori Battalion. So he sent one of his councillors in his place and she really enjoyed it.” He said the key now was for Whakatane residents to support the service so it continued.

Sunday’s open day at the Whakatane Airport provided a fantastic welcome for Air Chathams. “It was amazing – we loved it,” Captain Duane Emeny said. “It was a great welcome and also to have that big a turnout from the local community was a massive boost for us because it means people really do care about their regional airport and really do want their service to continue. “This is obviously important for us if we are going to make it work.” Air Chathams’ beautifully restored DC-3 proved a popular attraction, with people lining up to take advantage of the scenic flights on offer. Mr Emeny said they took up eight flights with all 28 seats full each time. “Basically from our 10am start we didn’t stop till just prior to 5pm – that’s two hours after the open day officially closed. “In the end we had to turn people away because we were running out of daylight to fly the aircraft. “It was great. It just shows how much of an icon the old DC-3 was,” he said. The Convair 580 was available for inspection and impressed visitors. Mr Emeny said people were impressed with the size and the leg-room, having previously been serviced by a 19-seater aircraft. “To have something in the air of that size was quite neat. They hadn’t really seen an aircraft of that size here before other than the odd charter.” He said it was also good to have the 18-seat Metroliner at the airport on static display. “It gave us an opportunity to say vote with your feet; the more you travel with us the more we will fly the Convair.” Keen photographers Jill and Colin Harland said the air show was a great opportunity to practise taking photos. “There’s a fabulous crowd here,” Mrs Harland said. She said the only sore point was the distance she had to walk to the airport from close to the Whakatane Golf Club entrance, where they parked their car. Traffic control was a problem during the day as the single gate entry to a paddock used for parking could not cope with two-way traffic. Bunty Here-wini said the Sunday event was an “awesome day”. “There’s lots of displays and great entertainment. “Keeping flights going from Whakatane, that’s great. You don’t have to go to Rotorua or somewhere else to fly from Whakatane – it keeps us on the map.”

For most of the passengers on Air Chathams’ inaugural flight into Whakatane yesterday, it took eight times as long to reach Auckland Airport as it did to fly home. A 19-strong contingent from the Eastern Bay took an early-morning bus ride to Auckland to be aboard the Convair 580 for the first flight into Whakatane following the departure of Air New Zealand. Mayor Tony Bonne, councillors, council staff and business, tourism and media representatives joined Air Chathams staff and a small number of paying passengers for the special flight, captained by airline owner Craig Emeny. With his son Duane in the co-pilot’s seat, Mr Emeny provided his first passengers with a smooth ride, from the moment they checked in at the Air Chathams counter at Auckland Airport through to landing in Whakatane a short time later. Everyone on board was noticeably impressed with the airline’s friendly professional service and the 50-seater aircraft’s comfort, especially after spending four-and-a-half hours on a bus and experiencing the nose-to-tail crawling pace of an Auckland motorway. Air Chathams will also have an 18-seater Metroliner servicing the Auckland-Whakatane route but it is the larger Convair that Mr Emeny is hoping to use to build visitor numbers to the region. For frequent flyers used to the cramped conditions of the Air New Zealand Beechcraft, the Convair is like flying business class. It has an abundance of leg room, overhead lockers for your carry-on luggage, an easily accessible toilet and room to walk around in the aisle when the seatbelt light goes off. As Mr Bonne puts it: “We’ve had a 19-seater minibus coming in and now we’ve got a 50-seater coach”. “We’ve got a service with two pilots – the other airports [abandoned by Air New Zealand] have all gone for single-engined one-pilot services – so our service is still superior and it does give us opportunity for expansion,” he said. Being a bigger plane everyone no longer automatically gets a window seat on the Convair 580 but there’s the bonus of being seated alongside your travel companion, or, if you’re travelling alone, some other interesting person. If not, rest assured it’s a quick 35-minute flight with hardly time to open the newspaper and more time spent ascending and descending than flying above the clouds. Air Chathams is keen to provide the Eastern Bay with the best air service possible and is hoping the community will support the airline in the same numbers and with the same gusto they supported the open day on Sunday. Mr Bonne shared this hope: “We had 5000-odd people go out to the open day. We now need all those people to always look at Air Chathams as the first option when they choose their flights”. Air Chathams is now flying regular daily flights between Whakatane and Auckland with fares priced from $89 to $339. Mr Emeny said due to gate availability in Auckland, and travel connections through Auckland for Whakatane residents, the company had adjusted the times of the morning and afternoon flights out of Whakatane Airport. The morning flight now leaves 10 minutes earlier at 7.05am (Monday to Friday) and the afternoon flight also leaves 10 minutes earlier at 4.20pm (every day except Saturday). There is also a change to the time of the last flight out of Auckland, now scheduled for 5.45pm (every day except Saturday) instead of the previous 6pm. Charter services are also available on the 18 and 50-seater aircraft with Air Chathams able to cater to the specific requirements of groups including an on-board catering and beverage service. The beautifully restored DC3 is available for special charter of scenic flights.

1 comment:

  1. Looking forward to flying with them on Saturday! :)