21 March 2015

Palmy looking for Half a Million Passengers

Passenger numbers through Palmerston North Airport are growing, but not as fast as hoped. Projections suggest the goal of just under half a million people a year may be just out of reach. In the six months to the end of December, there were 238,655 Air New Zealand passengers through the airport. That was 1 per cent up on the same six months for 2013, but below the increase that would probably be needed to reach the 475,000 goal for the full financial year. The figures were presented by airport company chairman Derek Walker and chief executive David Lanham to the Palmerston North City Council's finance and performance committee this week. The council is the airport's sole shareholder, and has been paid an annual dividend of just under $217,000. Lanham said reaching the target of nearly 500,000 passengers would depend largely on capacity growth - more flights and larger aircraft. If steady growth continued, the target could be reached in three years. The company is forecasting 488,000 people through the airport in 2017/18. That could improve if the airport were successful in attracting new flight operators to use Palmerston North. Walker said Air New Zealand's decision to drop direct flights to and from Nelson from April was a major disappointment, especially as flights were generally around 70 per cent full, indicating it was a service passengers wanted. The company was keen to see better connections through Wellington to Nelson, and was also trying to get the most convenient links to international flights. It was continuing to promote its "Fly Palmy" message, to get travellers from the wider region to start their journeys through Palmerston North rather than driving to other airports. "There is some potential for new entrants into the market picking up some routes," said Walker. "We continue to have talks. Palmerston North seems to be on the radar." Air New Zealand's cheap Night Rider fares had also been snapped up, boosting passenger numbers. Cr Chris Teo-Sherrell said he was concerned the airport could suffer if any new airlines failed or pulled out, as had happened in the past. Walker said the company would assess any newcomer's business case thoroughly before entering a new deal. On the other side of the terminal building, the airport's car park had been providing better returns than expected. The secure overnight parking area, which was full to capacity at the weekend when people flew to Auckland for the Eagles concert, was to be extended by about 40 parks and a new, separate entrance was to be put in.

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