29 April 2015

Local Coverage of First Sounds Air Service from WSZ

Front teeth missing and piglets swaying, Ciara Pugh settled into a front seat of Sounds Air’s new Westport plane yesterday and declared: “I’m the only one in my class here.” Minutes earlier the six-year-old South School pupil had been among four people chosen in a lucky draw for a scenic 10-minute flight from Westport Airport. “I haven’t been on a plane yet, this is my first time,” said Ciara. “My toy monkey’s been on a plane to Auckland,” she added. Behind her, passengers were commenting on how much bigger the plane seemed inside than the Air New Zealand Beech it has replaced. The PC12 has only nine seats compared to the Beech’s 19, but has more leg and head room. The seats are more comfortable and every passenger has a window seat. The former Royal Australian Flying Doctor plane, which has been refitted, smelled of new carpet. Pilot Maama Gueta came through to check the seat belts (unlike Air New Zealand each is both a lap and a diagonal belt) and co-pilot Willie Sage asked passengers where they wanted to go. “Gold Coast”, “North”, “Somewhere warm”, people responded. After a short taxi the PC12 rose smoothly off the tarmac and climbed to 6000 feet – well below its maximum of 30,000 feet. Passengers commented it was much quieter than a Beech. “It’s completely different riding,” said House of Travel manager Kelly Charlton. “It’s like being in a private jet… I feel like a Kardashian.” The extra leg room would make it much easier to fit in cabin baggage, unlike the Beech, she said. Ciara was fascinated by the view. “We are up in the clouds…” she said. “The town looks like a  tiny little hand.” Then “We have a television in my school in every single classroom.” Passengers applauded after the plane landed. Ciara was still wide-eyed. “It was cool. I never thought the town was so tiny when you  were up, up, up.”

About 100 people turned up at Westport Airport to welcome Westport’s new Sounds Air service yesterday afternoon. The band played and sausages sizzled as Sounds Air’s nine-seater Pilatus PC12 took off. Air New Zealand’s 19-seater Beech 1900D had flown between Westport and Wellington for the last time yesterday morning. Buller Mayor Garry Howard told last night’s crowd his council had been “gobsmacked” when Air New Zealand announced last November that it was abandoning Westport. He said the council quickly decided Westport couldn’t do without an air service and set out to find one that would work for the community. After considering four expressions of interest from various companies, it had opted for Sounds Air whose proposal was “head and shoulders above everybody else”, Mr Howard said. He thanked council staff, particularly Westport Airport chief executive Sonia Cresswell, for securing it. “She’s really put her heart and soul – far above the number of hours she’s paid for.”  Ms Cresswell would be the “check-in lady, bag lady and CEO” in the meantime, he said. Sounds Air managing director Andrew Crawford said the airline had been flying across Cook Strait for almost 30 years in single-engine Cessna Caravans. The Cessnas weren’t suitable for the Westport route so Sounds Air sought another option. “We needed something high and fast and there it is outside.” Sounds Air has bought two Swiss-made PC12s (worth $3 million each), formerly Australian flying doctor planes. Another would arrive in New Zealand today, on lease, for the new Sounds Air WellingtonTaupo service, Mr Crawford said. Air New Zealand has also abandoned that route. “That (the Taupo service) is a good knock-on service for Westport because three aircraft in the air helping each other service each route will be amazing.” He thanked council staff, his own staff, and Mr Howard for helping get the Westport service under way, and the local community for supporting it. “This is not ‘come in and see how it goes’,” he added. “We have committed for six years. Sure we are not going to fly it empty, but the way it’s been there’s been a great uptake.” West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O’Connor recalled another Air New Zealand pull-out from Westport about 30 years ago, when Air Nelson took over. He said Air Nelson went on to become an outstanding success. “If Air New Zealand continue in the way they are, to cut back regional services, I hope Sounds Air becomes as big and successful as Air Nelson… “You can’t have Air Part of New Zealand – it’s either Air New Zealand or it’s not.” Mr O’Connor believed Air New Zealand would come to rue its Westport decision. In the meantime, he said it was up to Buller to build on opportunities the new air service offered. He said he had flown in smaller Pilatus planes on the Tasman Glacier and was looking forward to flying in the PC12. “What do Swiss build that is anything but the best?” Local aviation enthusiast David Barnes said today that a passenger on the last Air New Zealand flight into Westport, who told The News the PC12 looked about the same size as a wing on the Beech 1900D, was being a bit unfair. Mr Barnes said the Beech was 3.2 metres longer and the wingspan was 1.4 metres wider than the Sounds Air plane, but the PC12 was far more technically advanced. The Beech was first flown in 1982 after a major modification to give full headroom. He said 695 aircraft were produced and the Beech was now out of production. “Compare the PC 12, which was first flown in 1991, with production at 1500 aircraft in 2014 and is still being produced.”

Source : Westport News, 29 April 2015


  1. I find it laughable how the article bags Air New Zealand at every opportunity.

    They pulled out because the route was running at a loss.

    The petty little coasters need to get over it.

  2. Yea that's a very fair comment. They're losing $1 million a month serving these smaller regions and people complain that the national carrier has dumped them. They wouldn't have to dump them if people actually used the services! Plus I think this was meant to be. None of the Eagle air services are suitable for 19 seat planes - theres just not enough demand.