12 November 2010

Whakatane Winter Flights to be Pruned

WINTER 2011 will be a winter of discontent for regular commuters between Whakatane and Wellington. “Low demand” for Air New Zealand’s direct service between the Eastern Bay and the nation’s capital has prompted the national airline to can the service for five months from May. It is a move that has been met with dismay by Mary Hermanson, the marketing manager for Eastern Bay economic development agency Toi-EDA, who told the BEACON she suspected Air New Zealand had set the service up to fail by pricing flights from Rotorua to Wellington much cheaper than from Whakatane. In a statement, Air New Zealand Link Eagle Air general manager Carrie Hurihanganui said the direct service would now only operate during the higher demand summer months. “During the winter season passengers travelling between Whakatane and Wellington will be accommodated via an Auckland connection.” The service was introduced with much fanfare in 2008, initially with six services per week which were later scaled back to five.  “Demand on this route is highly seasonal. Passenger numbers this past winter have unfortunately fallen below winter 2009, despite considerable local promotional efforts,” Ms Hurihanganui said. “There continues to be good demand for our Whakatane-Auckland service and we will focus on building patronage on this service as well as working closely with the local mayor and council to support future regional growth opportunities.” Mrs Hermanson was unaware of Air New Zealand’s decision when the BEACON contacted her. “I’m very suspicious – you can manipulate demand through pricing and at times it was $100 to $150 cheaper to fly to Wellington out of Rotorua than Whakatane. That must have been deliberate. “I’m really disappointed – it’s frustrating. We worked hard and did a lot of marketing and put a good case forward to get the service here. “It’s really important for the regions to have these connections to the main centres. “I guess Air New Zealand wants to fill its planes up before they fly them, and that’s one way of achieving it.” Eastern Bay Chamber of Commerce chief executive Gerard Casey said he believed the service’s wintertime hiatus was logical, however he and others would work hard to ensure it would not be repeated in 2012. “From the chamber’s perspective, we can understand it. If it is not economical, it is simply not economical.” He had spoken to Air New Zealand chief executive Rob Fyfe about the issue and what could be done to increase the number of passengers travelling the route during the colder months. “As I keep telling people, we have really got only three seasons here – spring, summer and autumn. “It is hard to say we have a winter here, yet in terms of passenger numbers we traditionally go quiet over that period. That’s what we need to address.” In the Air New Zealand statement, Whakatane mayor Tony Bonne said he and his council were “keen to work on  projects that will assist the sort of growth that would support the reinstatement of this service, including current initiatives such as the Te Whare Wananga o Awanuiarangi expansion, aqua culture project, and the industrial hub”.The small number of passengers already booked on the Whakatane-Wellington service next winter will be automatically rebooked to fly via Auckland.

No comments:

Post a Comment