17 June 2011

The Local Paper Keeping the National Carrier Honest

Recently Masterton's Wairarapa Times-Age did an article on cancelled flights through Masterton. However the Westport News does a fine job calling Eagle to account and regularly reporting when cancellations seem to happening too often... The following two pieces from the News are points in case - though in this case all credit to Eagle for trying to keep the flights in the air. From my observations the Eagle fleet has high demands placed on it and now without Air National backup one wonders how they manage...

9 Jun 2011 - Lights out at airport

Westport airport has been functioning without night landing lights for one-and-a-half weeks, causing at least two flight cancellations. The Apapi lights that pilots used to judge the height of the aircraft when landing at night failed on May 27, said Buller District Council property manager Bede Brown. To compensate the night flight schedule had been brought forward to allow flights to come and go within daylight hours, said Mr Brown. The fault was the result of a “Brown Out” - an electrical fault in the three-phase supply to the airport that caused the fuel-pump and Apapi lights’ control panels “to fry”, he said. The fuel pump system was fixed the same day, but council had to send to Australia for a new control panel for the Apapi lights. It arrived yesterday morning and would be installed and tested. Brown Outs meant that power was still available, but not at the right volume. As some power was still flowing the emergency generator did not kick-in. The problem occurred just as the morning flight to Westport was due on the 27th and all the lights were on. Had the fault occurred at another time it would not have been a problem. “It is chance timing which no one has control over,” said Mr Brown. In answer to the question of the how the airport malfunction would affect Westport’s image in terms of trying to promote the town as a good place to live and do business in, Mr Brown said the compromise of adjusting the flight schedule was better than cancelling the flights altogether and Air New Zealand had worked extremely hard to ensure the service remained available by re-scheduling. Punakaiki resident Richard Arlidge said he wanted to know what Air New Zealand’s commitment to its passengers was and how many other flights to Westport had been cancelled leaving passengers to find their own way home. Air New Zealand was always cancelling flights to Westport, when what the town needed was a 24-hour operational airport ready to respond to emergencies, said Mr Aldridge. The 5pm flight from Westport to Wellington had been cancelled on Monday partially due to the broken lighting problem, he said. Passengers were told the plane was late leaving Wellington due to a medical emergency at Wellington Airport and would not be able to arrive and depart again in daylight. Passengers waiting at Westport airport were offered the option of taking the morning flight out of Westport the next day or being driven to Nelson and getting an earlier flight, again the next morning. Those not living in Westport were offered accommodation here, if they stayed. Of the six who opted to take a van to Nelson one insisted on Nelson accommodation being provided, but the rest were not offered any until the first passenger told them of his deal as the van was about to leave and they negotiated the same. On another occasion unrelated to lighting, Mr Arlidge said he had to drive to Nelson to pick up a guest stranded by a cancelled flight. The April 16 Wellington-Westport flight had been delayed then cancelled. Passengers were told it was due to technical difficulties and the next day’s flight was already fully booked. No explanation of the technical difficulties was offered, but passengers were given the option of taking the next available flight to Nelson instead. However, no offer of land transport to complete the journey to Westport was made and the Air New Zealand staff in Wellington and Nelson declined all requests for a bus or van. The flight arrived too late in the day to connect with bus services to Westport. “Air NZ had sold most of that flight and simply packed people off to Nelson when empty seats were available and offered no onward connection, thus making a tidy profit,” said Mr Arlidge. Air New Zealand communications manager Tracy Mills said transport had been offered from Nelson and the flight was cancelled due to bad weather. One flight had been cancelled due to the lighting problem in Westport on May 27. She was not aware of Monday’s cancelled flight, said Ms Mills. Air New Zealand had a policy of always refunding, rebooking or offering land transport when a flight was cancelled, she said.

10 June 2010 - Lights still out
Westport airport will be unable to accommodate night flights for at least another week. The News reported yesterday that the airport’s Apapi lights that help guide planes into landing at night were “fried” in a brownout on May 27. All evening flights had been brought forward 40 minutes to allow the planes to land in daylight since. A new control panel for the lights arrived earlier this week from Australia and was installed and tested. However, Buller District Council property manager Bede Brown said he had now ordered more Australian parts. The control panel was a complex electronic system and had been damaged extensively, said Mr Brown. So far at least two flights have been cancelled as delays at Wellington have prevented the planes being able to arrive at Westport in daylight.

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