02 February 2010

Masterton, Hokitika and Wanaka Seek More Flights

While Air New Zealand's Link operator Eagle Air withdrew flights between Westport and Christchurch and Oamaru and Christchurch in December other centres are looking for more flights.

In November Masterton mayor Garry Daniell, noting good loads out of Masterton on the northbound morning service and southbound evening service suggested a return flight back to Masterton from Auckland in the morning which would then continue on to Christchurch with the reverse service being offered late afternoon.

In December Queenstown Airport Corporation chief executive Steve Sanderson approached Eagle Air with a view to obtaining earlier and/or later flights in and out of Wanaka. At present Wanaka receives a daily midday flight to and from Christchurch.

In January Hokitika Airport Company chairman, Bruce Smith, in light of good loadings on Eagle Air flights to Christchurch, spoke of the "huge opportunity" to link Hokitika with Wellington, Queenstown and Wanaka. Hokitika currently has up to four to five weekday flights to Christchurch.

Once again Eagle Air is presented with a problem - the aspirations of local communities and the need to be a viable business. One wonders how viable a service run by Beech 1900s can be - the Beech is a highly sophisticated and therefore not cheap aircraft. More and more people are wanting a low-cost flight which on a 19-seater is not really viable. For many an economic alternate is to drive to a major airport. Even on the West Coast Greymouth people will drive to Westport to get a cheap grab-a-seat to Wellington - it is only 30 minutes more than driving to Hokitika and from there all flights to Wellington are via Christhchurch and grab-a-seats are never offered to the capital. Other Greymouth people again will drive to Christchurch to catch a flight north. By the time one drives to Hokitika, flies to Christchurch, and even with a 20 minute stop between flights one can be half to Christchurch by car, and in Christchurch there are more options for cheap flights.

To date there has been no move on Eagle's part to introduce new services. Eagle is right to be cautious in introducing new services. But it can't afford to lose innovation and ignore the legitimate option that people can and are driving to major centres. To do that Eagle and provincial air services would both be losers.

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