16 November 2014

The Changing Face of Regional Air Services - My Comment

Last week’s announcement from Air New Zealand that it was cutting a number of provincial services wasn't really a surprise. The pattern set with the withdrawal from Oamaru, Wanaka and Masterton looked set to continue as the airline started reducing its uneconomic Beech 1900 fleet.

Kaitaia... going
Whakatane... going
Westport... going

So the cessation of services to Westport and Kaitaia was not totally unexpected. Both ports received at most two flights a day. To service them with a Q300 would be a return to Friendship days with a return flight probably in the middle of the day and with this not being suitable for business traffic the service would soon become unsustainable.

Oamaru... gone!
Wanaka... gone!
Masterton... gone!

Likewise, I was not too surprised that Whakatane was dropped. Rotorua and Tauranga airports are only an hour’s drive from Whakatane. Nonetheless Whakatane is the most hard done by port going from four weekday flights to none! Taupo’s proximity to Rotorua might have been the rationale of dropping the Wellington-Taupo service or are Taupo passengers to Wellington supposed to fly via Auckland? With Wanganui’s proximity to Palmerston North I thought that it might also have been chopped but it survived along with Hokitika and Timaru. One wonders whether these three ports will generate enough traffic for the long term.

Air New Zealand also announced the cessation of the Nelson-Palmerston North service and that the Hamilton-Palmerston North service would operate with a single Q300 flight each day. One wonders how long this service will last if the new schedule doesn't suit the business traffic.

There are other issues to be considered as well. Timetabling is going to be crucial. Talking about the Gisborne-Wellington route being operated by Q300s rather than Beech 1900s Gisborne Chamber of Commerce’s president Trevor Helson told the Gisborne Herald, there were still details to be ironed out, including flight frequency. “This is clearly a big step forward. The next step is to see it actually happen and make sure we get the right flight frequencies and times. Flights at 10am and 2pm do not help us very much because we are not going to keep three to four flights a day — it will drop to two!” Timaru, Hokitika and Wanganui will have similar concerns if schedules do not suit business traffic. Time will tell as Air New Zealand sorts out its schedules

So what about the replacement air services?

East Bay Aviation has announced its intention to operate Whakatane-Auckland services using a  12- to 14-seater aircraft. “We think we can operate that size aircraft quite economically so that’s probably where we would be heading.” East Bay Aviation intends to just operate a single sector – perhaps they could rename themselves Bell Air! Bell Air certainly had a loyal following from Whakatane residents and the size of the town with the right aircraft could conceivably be quite profitable.

Sunair has also announced its intention to operate twice daily Whakatane-Auckland and Kaitaia-Auckland services. Sunair’s Dan Power told Whakatane radio station 1XX that it is interested in servicing Whakatane Airport with “a 12-seater Cessna Caravan along with ten Piper Aztecs.” Sunair already has a long history of operating an extensive North Island network and recently announced its intention to inaugurate Auckland-Great Barrier Island flights from Ardmore airport. To date Sunair has never operated a turbo prop aircraft.

Sounds Air already operates an excellent service from across Cook Strait and from Wellington to Wanganui. They have recently announced the purchase of a fifth Cessna Caravan and the introduction of a new service between Blenheim and Paraparaumu. Sounds Air's managing director Andrew Crawford is in talks with authorities in Westport about flying a Westport-Wellington route and he indicated there was also potential for Sounds Air to pick up the Nelson-Palmerston North service and to fly a Nelson-Paraparaumu service. However, he also acknowledged that flying to Westport was complex because of mountains, weather and distance.

Of course it is early days… One wonders whether Vincent Aviation would have put its hand up to operate some services if it was still operating. To date Air Chathams, Great Barrier Airlines, Fly My Sky and Inflite Charter have not put their hands up to operate a service. Certainly Air Chathams and Inflite Air Charter have the capacity to offer services with pressurised turboprops. So what will the various centres be looking for?

Looking for work... Air Chathams' Fairchild Metroliner III ZK-CIC
Westport, Whakatane, Taupo and Kaitaia will want prime time services that will offer business people flights access to and from their towns to Wellington for Westport and Taupo and Auckland for Whakatane and Kaitaia. Whakatane is already used to such a service with an Eagle Air Beech 1900 overnighting there. Westport and Kaitaia's current flights are good for business people flying into the towns for the day but are not so convenient for those flying out. They too will be looking for an overnighting aircraft. But this means a plane sitting at Westport, Whakatane and Kaitaia all day. Whakatane might sustain additional flights to Auckland but I doubt Kaitaia and Westport would so this is not a good situation for prospective airlines.

Looking for work... Inflite Charter's BAe Jetstream 32s, ZK-ECI and ZK-ECJ
Similarly Palmerston North-Nelson and Palmerston North-Hamilton services probably need twice daily services at prime times to capture the business traffic. Then there are the other centres that get a much reduced Q300 service. Will there be a need for an early morning/evening return business flight for Timaru, Hokitika, Wanganui and Gisborne? And I really do believe a Masterton to Auckland and an Oamaru to Wellington could work if the airline concerned could offer a good business schedule with a Sounds Air type formula, that is, a very reliable airline with relatively cheap fares offered all the time. But with daily business schedules from these centres there is a problem…  what would the plane do for the rest of the day? Aircraft sitting idle don’t make money and competing against Air New Zealand is not a wise option either.

Sounds Air have proved Cessna Caravans are a good reliable platform for their short haul sectors. However, they are unpressurised and therefore they are not ideal for services to the likes of Wellington-Westport and Wellington-Taupo. Pressurised aircraft are generally more expensive to buy and have higher operating costs which, in turn, will mean higher fares. To pick up these routes Sounds Air might have to think of another type or alternately another operator might consider these routes.

Looking for work... Sounds Air's latest acquisition, Cessna Grand Caravan N771AL destined to become ZK-SAW and currently on its ferry flight to New Zealand. An ideal machine for Cook Strait flights and for Kaitaia and Whakatane
All in all Air New Zealand’s move raises opportunities for regional airlines to develop new services. But the history of NZ regional airlines is littered with companies that tried and failed. The airlines looking to offer replacement services will have a lot of homework to do over the next few months. The towns affected will need to be reasonable in what they expect while the airlines will need to be careful in what they offer.  

So these are my thoughts, what are yours???


  1. Have you heard anything from air2there in regards to this shake up...? Guess along with Air Chats and inflite, nothing much as been mentioned from them at all.. Then again they do have a some what limited fleet..
    Also any word on where vincents aircraft are at...? Are they still in the country..? If so, any opportunity to lease them..? Another since departed company National.. be interesting to see what they would do

  2. I have seen nothing on line about air2there... that they have recently pulled out of Wellington might be indicative of something, especially as Sounds Air are importing a 5th Grand Caravan and introducing Blenheim-Paraparaumu flights. I would have expected Air Chathams and Inflite to take their time if they were looking for something as are Sounds Air, though we have heard they are talking. Vincent's aircraft are for sale or lease... http://3rdlevelnz.blogspot.co.nz/2014/11/the-sad-end-of-vincent-aviation.html

  3. Whats inflites jetstreams config...? Are they luxury business or full 19 seater...?
    What's got more advantage b1900 or the 32/31..?
    Maintenance/operations wise.. Guess as you have already mentioned the Saab and B1900 would be alittle out of the likes of sounds air etc but beyond inflite and air chats... And air chats along with the metro, got a spare 580 cif doing current charters

  4. I am not surprised about Kaitaia or Westport, but quite shocked about Whakatane. Doesn't Taupo to Wellington have the same amount of flights as Taupo to Auckland? I don't know if Sounds Air could make Westport work with a Caravan. They could invest in a singular Jetstream 32 and use that on a daily service to Westport and then use it on services to Nelson and Blenheim as well (could start a Taupo service too?).
    I can imagine Hamilton, New Plymouth, Napier, Palmerston North, Nelson and Invercargill are going to be pretty much all ATR. I read that Mount Cook is going to take over WLG-NSN which has been a central Air Nelson route for years and years.

    1. From my understanding of the Taupo flights Auckland was the weaker link over Wellington... There is certainly an option for someone to operate a turbo prop twin out of Wellington, but would Westport and Taupo be enough???

    2. Been thinking about it some more... TUO-WLG was weak as a number of the early morning flights went via Wanganui each week

  5. I fly to/fro Kaitaia probably once a year, average. Flight, either direction is full. Often have to juggle my movements to snag a seat. Unaware if the usage is made by smarter people then I who know how to work the Grab-a-seat gig; I know when I go looking with a plan, what I am looking at changes rapidly. I never believed these changes were a true indication - more a manipulation by someone in ANZ.

    1. I suspect the rationale is 3 airports in Northland, 3 airports in the Bay of Plenty... Two will do! The fact is the 19 seaters were loss makers... Grabaseat fares don't help make a 19 seater make a profit. Would Kaitaia be better off with one Air NZ Q300 a day or two flights operated by a third level airline

  6. I think sounds air need to invest in a PC-12NG! That would be great contender for a few of the routes

    1. Check out http://planes.findthebest.com/compare/23-106/Cessna-Grand-Caravan-vs-Pilatus-PC-12-NG
      PC-12 only seats 9...

    2. You can do 10 with the co pilot seat and its pressurized and has ability to be used for cargo. They are faster as well...

  7. The Beech is unfortunately one expensive machine to operate. A boy in a mans world so to speak. It is by its lineage a GA machine asked to operate an Airline operation, its systems and construction cannot handle the daily abuse a scheduled airline requires. The J31/32 is built to an airline standard but is hamstrung buy its original design brief of a "commuter" turbo prop. It just does not have the room for baggage and freight. Great for the briefcase down to Auckland and back in a day but try to get luggage for an international trip and it is severely limited.
    Wellington Taupo is a no go without pressurisation as you need FL160 to avoid airspace restrictions and I would guess that will be what strangles Westport plus the alternate fuel requirement would severely limit payload. VFR in a Caravan may be an option.
    Any flight to Auckland will be clobbered by the landing fees and parking fees at Auckland Airport.
    GA piston aircraft have a "sweet spot" for operation at around 40 minutes flight time, that allows a reasonable payload with the option of an alternate for bad weather at the destination. Anything much longer than that and you start to eat into pay load to be legal.
    For Airwork to operate scheduled is quite a financial risk when you are specialised in contract charter.

    1. Air Chathams using Metro ZK-CIC but I think they would need a second Metro if they wanted to do both Westport and Taupo???

    2. Use the dak as backup.

  8. Was just going to suggest airwork as a possible option...
    Back in the late 90s. The air nelson metro that operateed the weekday 830am flight to rotorua was almost always operated by air works metro zk-pdf.
    Yeah.. The good old central plateau makes a formidable feat

  9. The dumping of the 19 was inevitable. The fact that no more 19 seaters are in production and the 1900 maintenance issues meant it was only a matter of time. It is interesting that no profit can be made off the beech when the Q300 and ATR fleets are very profitable. The exiting of Kaitaia was not a surprise. The far north district is the only district to contain two Air New Zealand airports. The drive to KKE is a bit of a bugger but in the long run it is cheaper for the district to have a single airport. Sun air is unlikely to do well as KKE is close, it connects to the Air NZ network and will have bigger more comfortable aircraft.The exit of WHK was un expected but makes sense with two well served airports an hours dirve away. Westport is the most unlucky as it is the most isolated. Sounds air has a chance of making a service work because there are no close airports and the time saving is quite large when compared to driving and taking a ferry.

  10. Any idea how profitable those metros are... Esp during their time with air nelson and eagle air and the comparison with the beech...? They look like a hardy plane maintenance wise and they are.... Faster...?

  11. It is an exciting period for 3rd level av in nz... Be very interesting what happens and some much needed variation esp for us plane spotters but....
    For the likes of sunair.. Please liven up the livery just a little.. Something to complement the generic factory cheat lines.. Like an identity, esp for the locals that will support it.. A stylized sun and something bopish won't go astray...
    And you air chats....
    Ssomething a bit more than the very original white you currently wear on the metro and two of your 580... Imagine the look on the looks of the locals faces from the likes of Westport and masterton... That beautiful two tone green flying in for the rescue... Bet the locals won't think of the chats as some hick island out in the wapps!!!?? Come on fly the air chats colours with pride...
    Lets bring back the good old colourful days... "I hope we fly that airline with the colorful shooting stars..." or " I love flying my local plane with the massive lily on the tail"

    1. CIE, CIF, CIC are all, charter machines now. Branding is discouraged by those who charter them.

    2. Convair also not really suited to new sectors opening up, cost per seat way too high to be commercially viable. Metro is ok but don't know how popular it would be for passengers, commercially viable but cramped.
      Really need a handful of caravans for these sectors in my opinion.

  12. What could work:
    AKL-WRE-KAT on a Monday, Wednesday, Friday

    AKL-WHK-GIS daily (morning to AKL, evening to GIS - only a 10 min stop at WHK)

    Have a daily return WLG-WSZ-HKK DH3, leaving HKK early arriving late.

    I am not too sure what to do about TUO-WLG or PMR-NSN, I think both routes could work but Air NZ obviously thinks they couldn't.

    1. WRE-KAT - $411,700 loss in 1981
      HKK-WSZ - $211,000 loss in 1981
      TRG-GIS - $320,500 loss in 1981
      Your suggestion basically has a half empty plane between WRE-KAT, WHK-GIS and WSZ-HKK... i.e. passengers will get off at the first stop and not carry on to the next. So I don't think it will work