Even as OzJet staff were getting ready for the starter's gun in Palmerston North, a deal was being done to shoot out of the sky the service they championed.
The Australian airline confirmed yesterday it will not start its promised trans-Tasman service in and out of Palmerston North this weekend, citing "recent merger talks which are nearing completion".
The Manawatu Standard has been told OzJet is the subject of a quickfire takeover bid, or buyout, by Our Airline (formerly Air Nauru), which has no interest in Palmerston North. OzJet owner Paul Stoddart seems prepared to sell.
OzJet is promising refunds for the thousands of passengers who had booked flights.
As late as mid-morning yesterday, an OzJet engineer was in Palmerston North as airport-based Fieldair Engineering prepared for its aircraft maintenance obligations.
By noon, the engineer was on his way back to Australia and news was all over Palmerston North that the OzJet service was to be canned just days before it was set to start.
"Planning for the new services was well-advanced and there will be disappointment with this sudden change of plan, which has been driven by events beyond the control of any one party," OzJet chief executive Willie O'Neill said in a statement.
The airline's shock U-turn means flights in and out of Palmerston North to Sydney and Brisbane will cease after Freedom Air's final flight tomorrow.
Freedom's owner, Air New Zealand, had not been asked yesterday to carry passengers left stranded by OzJet.
About 50 people at the airport involved in maintaining border services will either lose their part- time jobs or be redeployed at other ports.
Palmerston North International Airport chief executive Garry Goodman took heart that OzJet had not slammed the door on the city.
But Mr Goodman wasn't optimistic, however, that the situation could be salvaged.
The airport is focused on securing either a last-minute rescue package through OzJet, or again seeking out a suitable long-term replacement.
OzJet's backflip will also reignite debate over whether or not the most direct road between Feilding and Palmerston North - Milson Line - should still be sacrificed to accommodate an international-length runway.
- Manawatu Standard
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