11 November 2014

Whakatane Reaction

This is from Whakatane's newspaper, "The Beacon". Check the link below to see a great photo of a Beech 1900 at Whakatane

Air New Zealand is pulling out of Whakatane, cutting all flights from Whakatane Airport from April next year. The airline dropped the bombshell on the Eastern Bay’s flying public yesterday afternoon after earlier informing community leaders and its Eastern Bay koru club members. Whakatane Mayor Tony Bonne said he was “pissed off” at the decision and disappointed by the airline’s lack of consultation, given its relatively recent assurances Whakatane remained part of its long-term plan. “I’m very disappointed in the fact that only six months ago, or a little longer, we had a conversation with Air New Zealand,” he said. “They came here to talk about the Beech 19-seater. We asked them about the long-term longevity of this airport, to which they said ‘no, not a problem’.” On this basis, he said Whakatane District Council and the Government, as joint share-holders in the airport, had this month invested $180,000 in new lighting. “To be led up the garden path and to spend ratepayer money when they had no intention of staying is disappointing.” The Whakatane-Auckland route is one of seven regional routes to be canned following a regional review of aircraft operations aimed at delivering sustainable air services and lower prices for customers. Thirteen other routes will move from 19-seat aircraft to 50-seat aircraft, which Air New Zealand expects to result in an average fare reduction of 15 percent for customers. Mr Bonne said the route had always enjoyed good support from the community and Air New Zealand affirmed to him yesterday that flight loadings were 60 to 70 percent. The airline’s withdrawal would be a major inconvenience for people in remote parts of the Eastern Bay, such as Te Kaha, whose residents now faced a two-and-a-half-hour trip to an airport further away. Mr Bonne said the council would be open to discussions with other air transport operators interested in servicing Whakatane. At yesterday’s briefing, he said East Coast MP Anne Tolley sought assurances from Air New Zealand that, if anyone did come in and take on the route, the airline would not behave in a predatory manner and try to run them out of town. He said he intended to seek this assurance in writing from Air New Zealand chief executive Christopher Luxon. Since the beginning of 2014 Air New Zealand has had a team looking at how to address the challenges of the poor operating economics of its 19-seat fleet, while at the same time leveraging the economies of scale available from its 50- and 68-seat fleets. “The 19-seat aircraft is the smallest in the Air New Zealand fleet but has the highest cost per seat to operate because the fixed costs of operation are distributed across fewer passengers,” Mr Luxon said. “This has led to Eagle Airways, which operates the 19-seat fleet, losing $1 million per month for the past two years, or the equivalent of $26 per one way passenger journey.” Mr Luxon said it had also become clear there were some regional routes where demand for seats was strengthening, and the airline had already put more seat capacity into those markets. Kerikeri, Whangarei, Tauranga, Hamilton, Rotorua, Gisborne, Taupo, Wanganui, Palmerston North, Blenheim, Hokitika and Timaru airports will move from 19-seat aircraft to 50-seat aircraft. Mr Luxon said unfortunately there were a small number of regional routes where customer demand simply could not sustain the larger aircraft. From April 2015 the Kaitaia-Auckland; Whakatane-Auckland; Whangarei-Wellington; Taupo –Wellington; Westport-Wellington and Palmerston North-Nelson routes will be suspended.  Hamilton-Auckland will also be suspended from February 2016. Mr Luxon said while the news might be disappointing for some communities, Air New Zealand remained resolutely committed to regional New Zealand and the announced changes would set up the airline’s regional business model for future sustainable success. “I also acknowledge this news is disappointing for Eagle Airways’ staff. “Eagle Airways management, staff and unions will now begin a process of determining the future of the business. “The airline has 232 employees and there are good redeployment opportunities across a rapidly growing Air New Zealand Group.” 

Disappointment and anger at airline’s decision
Air New Zealand’s decision to drop its Whakatane flight services has disappointed Whakatane business representatives and angered one. Grow Whakatane chairman Tony de Farias, who was waiting at Auckland Airport for a flight announcement when contacted by the Beacon yesterday, said he was not in a position to comment, but added he was very disappointed. “We obviously need to consider what unfolds from here and what opportunities there are for Whakatane Airport going forward.” Some 10 minutes later Mr de Farias phoned the Beacon saying he was getting “angrier by the minute” at the Air New Zealand announcement and wanted to discuss it in more detail this morning. Eastern Bay Chamber of Commerce chief executive Gerard Casey said the chamber had been briefed by Air New Zealand yesterday about Whakatane Airport. “We are disappointed but understand Air New Zealand’s position – it has a fleet of ageing planes.” Mr Casey said what was a surprise was the early timing – April next year – of Air New Zealand’s withdrawal from Whakatane. He said Air New Zealand “keeping us informed” was appreciated. Mr Casey said on the positive side there were two airports – Rotorua and Tauranga – in close proximity to Whakatane, where air fares would become cheaper by up to 15 percent. “An alternative air service could yet pop up for Whakatane,” Mr Casey said. The owner of Whakatane taxi business Dial A Cab, Colin Devitt, said the Air New Zealand decision would have an impact on his business but it was hard to say what the overall effect would be. He said Dial A Cab might be able to pick up some business from people travelling to and from Rotorua and Tauranga airports. He said the greatest impact would be felt by those people who used the airport regularly.

1 comment:

  1. Whakatane's air service is subject to death by innuendo. No firm proof has been offered by Air New Zealand executives as to the sustainability or otherwise of the Whakatane service. More frustrating is Air New Zealand's blunt dismissal of any alternatives, such as piggy backing on the Gisborne to Auckland flights that already fly overhead. 26 flights per week are set to go, and as Air New Zealand moves the Q300 on other flights presently flown by the Beech 1900D, the overall result is a scaling back of flights to the whole Bay of Plenty.