Air Chathams and Vincent Aviation have emerged as strong candidates to take over the Masterton-Auckland route axed by Air New Zealand.
Wairarapa MP John Hayes said yesterday a decision was close on a replacement for the service Air NZ stopped this month, and that two airlines had emerged as candidates.
Air Chathams and Wellington-based Vincent Aviation confirmed to The Dominion Post that they were making formal proposals to take on the service.
Mr Hayes has led a steering committee with representatives from business, Masterton District Council, financiers and customers after the national carrier announced in September it was axing the service, citing a lack of demand and increased operating costs.
Tourism operators and business leaders were dismayed by the withdrawal and Mr Hayes has been critical of 73 per cent state-owned airline's refusal to negotiate an extension.
But yesterday he said business cases were being prepared by two possible replacement operators and would be considered by the steering committee in about two weeks.
Air Chathams chief executive Craig Emeny confirmed a bid had been made to service the route with a 19-seat Metroliner aircraft. He said the main advantage of his company's bid was the Metroliner's economy relative to more spacious aircraft.
He said the business case was based on an average passenger load of 12, and that Air New Zealand had averaged 15. The Auckland-based airline services the Chathams from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch as well as charters, he said.
Vincent Aviation owner Peter Vincent said he had also "thrown [his] hat in the ring".
The company, which operates charters and well as scheduled passenger services in Australia, could use either a 19-seat Jetstream or a 34-seat Saab aircraft on the route, he said.
Both men said smaller aircraft such as the Metroliner would require modifications to the Masterton airstrip for safety reasons.
- The Dominion Post
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