05 April 2020

Air Chathams' Looking Beyond Covid

The last people to arrive flew in on Air Chathams just before the nation-wide alert-4 lockdown on Wednesday March 26. Since then, no one has reported to the medical centre with coronavirus symptoms. Croon insists that with the island confined to barracks, they should be okay. Duane Emeny agrees. Born and raised on “the Chats” – as the locals call their home – Emeny is general manager of Air Chathams, the company his father Craig started 35 years ago to fly live crayfish off the island. Flying a Cessna 180, he would land on bumpy fields, load up and then head to Hawkes Bay with boxes of crayfish for export. Those flights quickly became the lifeline to the islands – a main trunk line in the air. But just as the Chathams have relied on the airline for more than three decades, now the airline is relying on the Chathams to keep them flying. “We’ve lost about 90 per cent of our business,” Emeny says. Pre-lockdown, Air Chathams flew Auckland to Whakatane, Whanganui and Kapiti, once a week to Norfolk Island and freight from Auckland to Christchurch. In winter they would fly three times a week to the Chathams and in summer that rose to six flights. All up, Air Chathams was in the air for 115 flights a week. Now, it’s just three, and all of those flights are to the Chathams. “It’s still the most important part of our business and has been for the 35 years since Dad started the company,” Emeny says. “It’s what the island always needed. We are State Highway 1 for the Chats. We are the only way to get there, we’re that essential.” Emeny says the airline will be okay for 12 weeks with a combination of the 144 staff taking pay cuts and a top up from the government’s subsidy package. “It’s what happens after those 12 weeks - and nobody really knows.” Even when the alert drops to level three or two, Emeny isn’t sure whether people will be keen to fly again, especially in the close quarters of the small planes that Air Chathams uses. Add to that, he says, the loss in income most companies are suffering and the rise of video conferencing through the Covid-crisis and business travel may have suffered a hefty long term blow. 

1 comment:

  1. The Saabs, the ATR, DC3 and Convairs would be okay is there room for physical spacing with passengers having window seats, but Air Chathams domestic air travel will be sluggish for a while so destination like Kapati Coast, Whanganui and Whakatane could be suspend for at least 3-4 months with very limited services after that probably for the summer period.

    Air Chathams lifeline will be air freight and essential passenger travel between Auckland and/or Wellington to the Chathams twice or possibility 3 times a week.