24 January 2015

Further Info on the Westport Service

Picton-based Sounds Air says it’s spending about $6 million on two aircraft for its new Westport to Wellington air service. The airline and the Buller District Council yesterday confirmed Sounds Air would replace Air New Zealand when the national carrier exits Westport on April 28. Sounds Air and the council have signed a six-year partnership, with rights of renewal and the potential for further flights or destinations. Sounds Air will provide 26 flights a week – six more than Air New Zealand - and a more customer friendly schedule. It will also offer charter flights. Managing director Andrew Crawford told The News Sounds Air was buying two nine-seater pressurised Pilatus PC12 planes - each costing around $3m. The first - a 10-year-old plane previously used by the Australian Royal Flying Doctor Service – would arrive in New Zealand next week to be refitted. “It’s going to have a brand new engine, new prop, new interior, new seats, new carpet and new paint job,” Mr Crawford said. Sounds Air was buying another PC12, also costing around $3m, as a back-up. The airline would employ three extra pilots for its fleet, as well as three ground staff at Westport. The pilots for the Westport service would come from those flying Sounds Air’s existing Cessna Caravan fleet. The planes would be based in Westport and serviced in Blenheim. Safety reassurance Mr Crawford was quick to reassure anyone nervous about flying in a small, single-engine, single-pilot plane. He said Sounds Air flights between Westport and Wellington would be smoother, quieter and faster [40 minutes rather than 50 minutes], than those provided by Air New Zealand’s 19-seat Beech 1900s. The PC12 could provide a smoother ride by flying at higher altitudes of up to 30,000 feet, he said. Safety was not an issue. “We have been flying single-engine planes across Cook Strait since 1986. We’ve done over 150,000 crossings of Cook Strait with single-engine planes. We don’t think it’s any issue whatsoever… “The PC12 has a DC6 engine. It is an amazing piece of equipment – a similar engine to the Beech 1900s, but much quieter.” Sounds Air has had only one serious crash in its 30-year history. In 1996 a Cessna descending through cloud into Picton flew into a mountain, killing all five passengers. Only the pilot survived. Mr Crawford said the new service would be more reliable than Air New Zealand’s. In bad weather, Sounds Air could delay a flight until weather improved because it was flying only one route. Air New Zealand could seldom delay because its planes were required elsewhere. “We don’t expect any great issues with weather… These planes are much better equipped than Air New Zealand aircraft, avionic-wise.” The PC12 carried ample fuel if flights had to be diverted. “We have got enough fuel left to fly to Australia.” He said Sounds Air hadn’t really thought about flight cancellation contingency plans, such as bussing passengers to other airports as Air New Zealand has done. Air New Zealand cancelled 21 flights between Westport and Wellington last year for weather and other reasons. Mr Crawford declined to reveal how many seats the new service would need to sell per flight to make a profit. Nor would he comment on reports the council had guaranteed a minimum number of seat sales. He said talks were continuing. 

Charter work
Mr Crawford is confident of charter opportunities for the new aircraft. He said local businesses that also worked elsewhere in New Zealand had already expressed an interest. Sounds Air planned to buy US$65,000 worth of medical equipment so the aircraft could operate as an air ambulance. Sounds Air would be talking to the West Coast District Health Board and to the Grey District Council about charter work. He had no doubts the new Westport service would be ready to take off on April 28, the day Air New Zealand pulls out. He said the only Civil Aviation approval required was adding the new aircraft to Sounds Air’s operating certificate. “The numbers are there and we are looking forward to providing an excellent service – a better service, if you look at the scheduling, than what’s been provided for some time.” Sounds Air had already received an “amazing amount of support” from Buller people urging it to provide a new service, he said. Bookings for the new service open on Monday. Passengers will pay $199 each way for adults and $179 for children, including a 20kg baggage allowance per person. Air New Zealand’s fares vary according to demand and when bookings are made. For example, flying between Westport and Wellington tomorrow, and returning on Monday, would cost between $229 and $279 one-way. Flying from Westport to Wellington on Friday February 27 would cost between $144 and $249. A return flight on Monday March 2 would cost between $99 and $169.

MP plugs new airline
West Coast-Tasman MP Damien O’Connor is a Sounds Air fan. Mr O’Connor was quick to plug Westport’s new airline after yesterday’s announcement Sounds Air would replace Air New Zealand. Mr O’Connor said he had flown Sounds Air several times between Wellington and Nelson and received a “great” service which matched Air New Zealand’s. There was no reason why a smaller plane would provide a less reliable service for Westport than Air New Zealand’s Beech 1900s, he said. The PC12 had instrument flight rating, was pressurised, and the Swiss aircraft was “an outstanding one, world-renowned”. Airlines operating small aircraft often provided a more personal and flexible service and a quicker exit at airports. Mr O’Connor congratulated Sounds Air on its commitment to Westport and Buller. “It’s great to see that a company is prepared to front up with the equipment and a timetable that is very generous in terms of options for the people of Buller and I hope we can generate the numbers that will give them a fair profit and return for their efforts.” He wasn’t aware of possible cost to ratepayers, but said that as long as it was manageable it was justified, given the significance of Buller remaining connected to Wellington and wider New Zealand through an air service.

Source : Westport News

Check out my photos of the Royal Flying Doctor's Pilatus aircraft here... 


  1. There one PC-12 based in Feilding Aerodrome

    1. No it is based at Springhill, maintenance is done at Fielding

    2. I think you are both right...
      PC12 ZK-TFL based at Springhill
      PC12 ZK-TIL is registered to an Auckland company but is Fielding based

    3. seen a pc12 fly low over feilding yesterdayim pretty sure it had a vh rego.........

  2. VHOOI is at Fielding also. The owners of it have bought PA31 ZKNOW, also at Fielding. VHOOI spends much of its time at Norfolk Island. ZKTIL is a mystery as to its usage with the initial intent it would be used to fly gokfers to the Tara-Iti course near Wellsford.
    But it spends 99% of its time languishing at Fielding.
    I wonder if the ex RFDS machine is the one originally destined for air ambo work out of New Plymouth but the deal went belly up? I doubt a rock rolled and rallied PC12 powered by a 'DC6' engine will be worth $3 million!