31 December 2009

Air New Zealand drops Oamaru - AGAIN

Some 15 years after Air New Zealand had withdrawn its Air Nelson air service to Oamaru the national carrier moved to return.

For some time the Waitaki District Council had been advocating for the reintroduction of an air service to Oamaru. In 2005 the Council came in for ratepayer criticism when it spent about $400,000 resealing the 1.4km runway, painting the terminal, installing new toilets and refurbishing the control tower. The works, however, were not in vain for on the 21st of June 2006 Air New Zealand announced that it was to reintroduce a six day a week air service to Oamaru. The new service was to operate on a trial basis for six months and whether it continued was to depend on the support it received. The new service was to be operated by Air New Zealand’s Link carrier, Eagle Air, using a 19-seat British Aerospace Jetstream 32 chartered from Air National. The Jetstream proved to be a much more suitable aircraft than the previously unpressurised Piper Chieftains Air Nelson had operated some 15 years before.

In a company press release Air New Zealand Group General Manager Norm Thompson said the airline was delighted to once again provide Oamaru with an air service and, given the support of the local business community, he was confident that it would be well utilised saying that "this new service is a good example of Air New Zealand's commitment to support the smaller regional communities of New Zealand by providing direct links to the larger centres."  

The Waitaki District Council had to invest some $40,000 to get Oamaru Airport ready for the new service. The council entered a six month contract with Air NZ, waiving landing fees and providing support staff at the terminal for flights. The Waitaki District Council’s Corporate Services group manager, Stephen Halliwell, was reported in the Otago Daily Times as saying “it would cost the council about $15,000 for the six months to staff the airport terminal for flights. Up to $25,000 would be spent by the council before the service started to get the airport operational. That included rewiring of the terminal, interior carpet and paint, installing a heat pump and furniture. Outside work would include resealing the runway apron and additional runway lighting. Fencing and upgrading security, including a security camera for the carpark, would be needed.”

The first flight operated into Oamaru on Sunday the 6th of August 2006. About 120 people welcomed the first flight flown by Air National BAe Jetstream ZK-ECI, aptly named Spirit of Waitaki. The first scheduled flight from Christchurch to Oamaru was flown under the command of Captain Alan Lord and First Officer Peter McKenzie and landed at Oamaru just after 5.45pm carrying 14 passengers. At the launch of the service Eagle Air’s general manager, Doug Roberts, was reported as saying 17 passengers were booked to fIy out of Oamaru the next morning and forward bookings were strong. “All we need now is for the people of Oamaru and North Otago to support the service," he said.

Photo : Otago Daily Times

The new service saw Monday to Friday flights departing Oamaru at 7.05am for the 45 minute flight Christchurch. On Friday nights there was an evening flight from Oamaru at 6.25pm which arrived in Christchurch at 7.10pm. Southbound flights departed Christchurch, Sunday to Friday, at 5.20pm to arrive in Oamaru at 6.05pm. The flights were well patronised and the service continued well past its six month trial period.

In April 2009 the Oamaru air service received a bomb shell when Air New Zealand announced a major revision of the timetable from the 18th of May 2009. The convenient northbound morning and southbound evening services were cut and were replaced with a Monday to Friday Christchurch-Oamaru service which departed Christchurch at 8.30am and then left Oamaru on the return flight for Christchurch at 9.35am. Eagle Air’s General manager, Grant Kerr, told the Oamaru Mail a review of the service showed more customers utilised the service into Oamaru rather than out of Oamaru and the changes would better meet the needs of business travellers. Customer feedback suggested that business people flying into Oamaru would prefer to arrive in the morning rather than the evening, to allow for early meetings and a full day's work, he said. The only problem with this was there no afternoon service out of Oamaru. The new schedule was also totally unsuitable for Oamaru business people.

The Spirit of Waitaki, Air National's BAe Jetstream ZK-ECI at Oamaru on 7 December 2009.

Unsurprisingly it did not work. In July Deputy Mayor, Gary Kircher, told the Otago Daily Times, the changed schedule "just hasn't been a flyer". Following many complaints from North Otago people and discussions between Eagle Air and the Waitaki District Council a revision to the timetable revision was made from the 20th of July 2009. This latest schedule varied from day to day: Flights left Christchurch for Oamaru on Mondays at 8.30am and 6.25pm; on Wednesdays at 6.25pm and on Fridays at 2.20pm. Flights from Oamaru to Christchurch left at 9.35am on Mondays, 7.05am on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 3.25pm on Fridays.

Once again, this schedule proved unsustainable and it was no surprise when it was announced on the 14th of October 2009 that the last flight to Oamaru would operate on the 31st of December 2009. It was stated that passenger loads on the service had averaged 45% over the previous six months. No reporter asked what the load factor had been with the original northbound morning and evening southbound services.

Local interests were not impressed with the Air New Zealand decision and felt it was an interesting time for Eagle Air to pull out when there were proposals for a new cement plant by Holcim (New Zealand) Ltd, a proposal by Meridian Energy for a new power scheme on the lower Waitaki River, new irrigation schemes and a new dairy processing plant near Glenavy.

And so it was that on 31 December 2009 Eagle Air’s Beech 1900 ZK-EAL flew the last Air New Zealand service to and from Oamaru for the second time. Six passengers flew into Oamaru at around 9.10am on with 14 passengers leaving on the last flight at 9.25am.

The last flight... passengers checking into board Eagle Air's Beech 1900 ZK-EAL for the last flight from Oamaru on the 31st of December 2009. Photos : Oamaru Mail

So what’s the moral behind the Oamaru saga? Provincial centres want not only an air service but a good air service. Gone are the days when Friendships flew into provincial centres at times when an aircraft was available but people didn’t want to fly. Nowadays, if there is no convenient and relatively cheap air service, people will drive to a larger centre to catch a flight to a major centre to fly when they want to fly. In Oamaru’s case Christchurch is an easy 3 hour drive. With flights to from Christchurch to Auckland from $ 59 or Christchurch to Wellington for $39 why pay huge fares to fly from Oamaru? Grab-a-seat offered Christchurch Oamaru fares often – but rarely if ever offered cheap fares beyond Christchurch. The challenge for Eagle Air is to be all things to all people – provide a good business service to the provinces and at the same time be a low-cost carrier. Not easy. In the meantime we wait for the next flight to Oamaru...

30 December 2009

Air New Zealand Announce End of Christchurch-Westport service

Air New Zealand announced that it’s six month trial air service between Westport and Christchurch was to be cut after Solid Energy removed its support for it. The service, instigated and subsidised by the state owned enterprise cola producer, Solid Energy was launched on 6 July 2009 amid much controversy. While Air New Zealand and Solid Energy had been in discussions for some three years about the possibility of such an air service earlier in 2009 Coastair had commenced a three-day-a-week between Christchurch-Westport-Greymouth-Christchurch morning service with a return service being flown in the later afternoon/early evening. Air New Zealand’s Beech 1900’s flying Christchurch-Westport-Christchurch in the mornings and evenings on Mondays and Fridays marked the death knell of the Coastair service. Vicki Blyth, Solid Energy’s communications director, told the Westport News, “the company had spent enough underwriting the unsuccessful Air NZ trial. ‘Unfortunately the service is not going to wash its face financially and stand on its own two feet. We were only prepared to do it for a short period to prove that it was viable. Unfortunately it's not’.” Eagle Air said the service had attracted average loads of only 55%. The service ceased on December 19 when the mines closed with the expectation it would have resumed in February. The first scheduled air service between Westport and Christchurch began on 20 December 1968 when NAC launched its trans-alpine Friendship service to Hokitika. Initially the Friendship connected at Hokitika with the DC-3 service from Wellington, Nelson and Westport to Hokitika where passengers changed aircraft to continue on to Westport or Christchurch. Following the upgrading of Westport airport to Friendship standard NAC introduced Friendships on the Wellington-Nelson-Westport-Hokitika-Christchurch flights. Scheduling was not great... the north and south bound services from Westport and Hokitika often departed within 1 to 2 hours of each other making it impossible for passengers to do a day’s business on or off the Coast. Over the years Nelson was dropped from the service and at various times, while operated by NAC and later Air New Zealand, the Westport-Hokitika link was cut severing Westport’s more direct connection to Christchurch rather than via Wellington. The withdrawal of Friendships from the West Coast on 30 October 1988 in favour of Air Nelson using Metroliners also marked the end of the Westport-Hokitika link. However Air Nelson were prevailed upon to try re-establishing the link with Metroliners and 6 February 1990 and 9 February 1991. Once again the timetable was not conducive to business traffic (Hokitika had 3 Metroliner departures within 1 hour 40) and so the service was scrapped. In 2002 the Cooperite community from Haupiri, trading as Air West Coast, offered a Greymouth-Westport-Christchurch on Tuesdays and Thursdays using Piper Chieftain or Piper Seneca aircraft. It seems the flights were operated on an as required basis and by April 2003 they were no longer being offered. Coastair, a subsidiary of Ashburton Air Services Ltd (AAS), began its air service on 8 April 2009 using a 12 seater Cessna 404 Titan, ZK-NDY. Two weeks later Coastair had flown only eight of a scheduled 12 flights between Westport and Christchurch due to a lack of bookings while at that stage no-one from Greymouth had used the service. Coastair said it needed three return passengers per flight to break even. The service was reportedly starting to build before Air New Zealand announced its, what Coastair described as “predatory”, service. Coastair flew its last service to Westport on 6 July 2009, the same day as Eagle Air commenced the new Air New Zealand service. Following the withdrawal of the Air New Zealand service Coastair ruled out a return to Westport stating their own failed venture to Westport last year cost up to $80,000 and they didn’t want to repeat the experience.

Coastair's Cessna 404 Titan, ZK-NDY at Greymouth on Friday the 3rd of July. Coastair's service ended on the following Monday.

18 December 2009

17-18 Dec 2009 - Hokitika-Haast Air Service celebrations

18 December 2009 celebrated the 75th anniversary of New Zealand's first scheduled air service. Bert Mercer formed Air Travel NZ Ltd to fly from Hokitika to South Westland and in particular to Haast which was still cut off from the national raoding network. After World War II Air Travel, Cook Strait Airways and Union Airways were merged to form the NZ National Airways Corporation. In 1978 the national domestic carrier was merged with the international carrier, keeping the latter's name, Air New Zealand. So Hokitika airport holds the honour of being airport that has had the longest continuous scheduled air service in New Zealand. Celebrations at Hokitika and Haast marked the event, though sadly an unusually wet weekend on the Coast kept most of the Haast event firmly on the ground. However, in Hokitika examples of the earlier De Havilland aircraft that started the service were present and offering joyrides mixing with the more contemporary types on their scheduled work...

Air Travel's original aircraft, De Havilland 83 Fox Moth ZK-ADI in full Air Travel colours back at Hokitika. Air Travel had three Fox Moths and these were used were continued to be by NAC until the mid 1950s.

ZK-AYR, an example of Air Travel's two larger De Havilland 90 Dragonfly aircraft which were purchased to expand the air service. These were used on flights to South Westland and through to Greymouth, Westport and Nelson. Both Air Travel's Dragonflies met sad fates.


ZK-AXI is New Zealand's only example of a De Havilland 84 Dragon. Following the crash of one of their Dragonfly's, Air Travel acquired a Dargon ZK-AHT, for the service to Nelson. Sadly this too crashed in 1944 killing the founder of Air Travel, Bert Mercer.

Though not used on scheduled air services in Westland Fox Moth ZK-APT was used extensively in South Westland.

Old aircraft, new airport and new terminal. The De Havilland types that frequented Hokitika largely used the old airfield on the south side of the Hokitika River. The move to present airport also involved moving the terminal which was later replaced by the current terminal. The De Havilland aircraft were parked outside the terminal as an extension to it, aptly named the Mercer Lounge, was officially opened.

Continuing on the tradition of British aircraft Air National is chartered to provide additional capacity on the Christchurch-Hokitika service with BAe Jetstream aircraft such as ZK-ECN. At present they fly four flights a week but at times they have been used twice a day.

The weather was starting to turn as Eagle Air's Beech 1900 ZK-EAO arrived from Christchurch. Eagle fly up to five flights a day to Hokitika. With the celebrations it would have been a good day to announce a direct Hokitika-Wellington service... it didn't happen! If you haven't already got a copy of Richard Waugh's book on the historic air service, HOKI TO HAAST, it really is a good read!

14 December 2009

Vincent Aviation Eyes Up Greymouth Service

Source : Greymouth Evening Star

Plans for a Greymouth-Wellington airline have reached Development West Coast. Vincent Aviation visited Greymouth on August 5, when its 40 seat Bombardier Dash 8 became the largest passenger plane to land here. The flight was a charter of timber company IPL and sparked talk of a Greymouth-Wellington service. Greymouth has had two air services start up and close down recently. Air West Coast operated by the Gloriavale Christian Community flew to Wellington while Coastair operated by an Ashburton company, flew to Christchurch. In October Air New Zealand firmly denied any plans for Greymouth flights, while Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn held out hope that someone would make a go of it. Development west Coast chief executive John Chang, confirmed today it was in the early stages of talks with Vincent Aviation. He was unable to reveal much about the proposal as it was mostly of a confidential nature. Dr Chang said they were considering the idea, and different business models. “DWC have invited a few potential uses of air services (other air services) for general discussion.” The Greymouth Star understands Vincent Aviation would like Development West Coast to underwrite each flight for several thousand dollars. Vincent Aviation managing director was unable to be contacted this morning.

Sunair Introduce Whitianga-Auckland Air Service

In Novermber 2009 Sunair announced the introduction of a new twice daily Whitianga to Auckland service. The company announced that flights would Flights leave Whitianga at 8am and 2.30pm and return from Auckland at 9.30am and 4pm using Cessna 172 or Piper Aztec aircraft and being flown by local pilot, Charlie Chilwell. Whitianga had not had a scheduled service to Auckland for ten years. The service began on Monday 14 December using Cessna 172 ZK-DHN carrying two passengers. The local newspaper, the Coromandel Peninsula Post, reported that "there are a number of forward bookings and things are looking very positive. 'Generally there’s a lot of interest.'"

Sunair would have to be New Zealand's most extensive third level operation. In total it operates 9 Piper Aztecs and the Cessna 172 to eight North Island destinations in addition to Auckland and Whitianga.

Sunair's Cessna 172 ZK-DHN at Tauranga on 1 September 2009

11 December 2009

More Masterton Flights Unlikely

Source : http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/industries/3150799/Eagle-call-unlikely-to-succeed
A call for more daily flights out of Masterton looks unlikely for now, Air New Zealand subsidiary Eagle Air says. The airline has been flying six days a week return from Masterton to Auckland since February. Bookings on the 19-seater have been "solid", but Masterton Mayor Garry Daniell wants to see a daily link to Christchurch added and a second, later return flight to Auckland. The current flight suited local business people, but made it difficult for others catching overseas flights, he said. More flights would also make it easier to book large parties for tourism activities. The solution was not simply putting on a bigger plane because the aerodrome could not handle it, Mr Daniell said. Destination Wairarapa chief executive Peter Wilson said the plane was often "packed" and had one of the highest loadings in the country. Apart from business people, the flight was being used by locals who would invite friends to fly in and then go to a show in Wellington, Mr Wilson said. But more seats would be a boon to the tourism sector, he said. "The great thing about that link is it does put us on the map quite literally, with Air New Zealand." Eagle Air general manager Carrie Hurihanganui said the call had been taken on board, but passenger loads and demand were "still settling".