03 June 2014

Napier-Chatham Connection

Air New Zealand may have a competitor for Hawke's Bay flights to Auckland, with the possible resumption of flights to the Chatham Islands. Chatham Islanders are referred to Hawke's Bay for specialist medical care and have their airfares, via Wellington, paid for by the health board. The weekly service ran from 2007 to 2012 before it was cancelled. In talks with the Hawke's Bay District Health Board, Air Chathams owner Craig Emeny said the Chatham Islands-Auckland service flew over Napier and once stopped there in the hope of picking up additional freight or passengers. "It didn't work - we didn't increase our revenue, we just increased our operational costs," he said. "Because of the recession everything dried up at that time." At yesterday's monthly board meeting chairman Kevin Atkinson said the health board was in talks with Mr Emeny about resuming the service. "If we could get the service reinstated during the day, at the right timing and cost, there could be significant savings for us," he said. "The other opportunity would be to utilise that flight to do an Auckland to Napier flight run. There might be an opportunity to our community to have an alternative to Air New Zealand." Favouring reinstatement is the recent lengthening of the Hawke's Bay Airport runway, enabling Air Chathams planes to carry a full load of freight. Mr Emeny said he was very keen for the service to resume because it would make it easier for Chatham Islanders to access health care. He said a Ministry of Health team was currently surveying islanders over which part of New Zealand it would prefer to service its health needs, but even if the ministry decided Hawke's Bay would no longer be the health provider it would be about 18 months before patients were redirected. "So we still have an opportunity." Talks will continue once the board quantifies its needs so that Chatham Islanders can enjoy a same-day service, avoiding a multi-connection flight to reach specialist appointments. An air ambulance service to the Chatham Islands is provided by Skyline Aviation based at Hawke's Bay Airport.

The Hawkes Bay Today newspaper is certainly keen for more flights to Auckland... The article's headline was More Flights to Auckland. From my reading of the article that's not what it was about! And check out the aircraft photo they used, Maybe Air Chats are re-equipping... I wonder if Craig is aware of that! 

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