12 July 2015

The National Carrier Leaves Westport

During 2002 Air Nelson's Metroliner services were replaced by Eagle Air using new Beech 1900Ds. The transition took place over several months with the first Eagle Air Beech 1900D Wellington-Westport-Wellington service being flown by Captain Brett Moffat and First Officer Aaron Murphy in ZK-EAK on the 15th of July 2002 while the last Air Nelson Metroliner flight to Westport was operated by ZK-NSJ on the 8th of September 2002.

Eagle Air's Beech 1900D ZK-EAC at Westport in 2003

From the 19th of March 2004 Eagle Air reintroduced Saturday services to Westport which Air Nelson had dropped. Flights were further increased on the 12th of February 2007 when Air New Zealand doubled its weekday flights between Westport and Wellington to two a day. This necessitated the lease an extra 19-seater Beech 1900 from Wellington-based Vincent Aviation and, later, an Air National BAe Jetstream 32. Eagle Air general manager Doug Roberts said the new flights would cater particularly for the business community which needed a weekday return flight between Westport and Wellington. “It’s what the business market wants. It meets connections – it works a lot better than a single, middle of the day flight. It’s a risk for us to do this, but we hope we have done a proper analysis,” Mr Roberts said. He believed the new schedule would boost flight loadings on the route from the current 66 percent. “Generally we want our flights performing at the 70 per cent level, but we think if we improve the timings, even though it’s double the number of seats, it will more than perform.” Westport Airport would need new lighting for the proposed early evening flights to continue at the same times through winter. “If that doesn’t happen we will move the timings forward by about 20 minutes.” The new weekday timetable saw flights depart Wellington at 8.10am and 4.40pm and depart Westport at 9.15am and 5.45 pm. There was a positive response to the two flights with passenger numbers doubling on the Westport flights. One positive result of the new service was that the Buller District Council installed landing lights.

Air National's BAe 32 Jetstream ZK-ECN arrives at Westport on 29 May 2008 on an Eagle Air flight

Vincent Aviation's Beech 1900D ZK-VAB on an Eagle Air flight at Westport on 2 October 2005. Photographer unknown

From the 6th of July 2009 Air New Zealand launched a new service between Westport and Christchurch on a six-month trial basis. The new service, operated by Eagle Air, was flown on Monday and Friday mornings and evenings using Beech 1900D aircraft. Eagle Air General Manager Grant Kerr said he was pleased to launch the new four times a week service, which would make it quicker and easier for customers travelling between Westport and Christchurch. “We have been evaluating the potential for a direct service between Westport and Christchurch for some time, in response to direct approaches from a number of customers keen to make it a reality,” he said. Mr Kerr said Air New Zealand has been in discussions with energy producer, Solid Energy for nearly four years about potentially operating a service between Christchurch and Westport. Solid Energy’s Stockton Opencast Mine, just north of Westport employs about 700 people. A number of company staff from Christchurch regularly travel to the mine, along with other contractors and consultants. “Solid Energy has committed to supporting the new service and this has certainly given us the confidence to launch,” Flights departed Christchurch at 6.25am and 4.15 pm and left Westport at 7.25am and 5.15pm. The first flight was flown by Beech 1900D, ZK-EAJ under the command of Captain Alistair Marshall, First Officer Dan Bolton. The major customer was the state-owned coal company Solid Energy and Air New Zealand planned to put the service on hold over the summer break from the 19th of December to the 31st of January 2010 while the mines were closed. However, over the summer break Solid Energy said it would not subsidise the flights and the service didn't restart in the new year.

Westport airport chief executive Bede Brown, captain Alistair Marshall, first officer Dan Bolton and operations manager William Oxley at the door of Beech 1900 ZK-EAJ as the Westport-Christchurch service starts on 6 July 2009

In October 2012 a downturn hit the mining industry which in turn meant a weakened demand for flights. In February 2014 the Saturday flight and Wednesday morning flights were cut and Air New Zealand told Westport, "The message to people is use it or lose it."

Air New Zealand's decision to drop its Beech 1900D aircraft from its fleet was the final straw for the Westport service and in late 2014 the national carrier announced it would withdraw its air service from Westport. The final flight was operated on the 28th of April 2015 under the command of Captain Andrew Mercer and First Officer Jason McDonald in Beech 1900D ZK-EAN. 13 passengers flew into Westport on Eagle flight NZ2587 while only 5 passengers flew out on the last flight, NZ2588.

The final service to Westport operated on 28 April 2015 by Beech 1900 ZK-EAN.

The Eagle Air crew, Captain Andrew Mercer (left) and First Officer Jason McDonald (right) with Eagle Air's Westport ground staff

The national carrier flies away from Westport for the last time

1 comment:

  1. I understand AirNZ is operating Q300 service on WLG-WSZ-WLG on the 21st of August.