Regional links a priority for new airport boss

Tauranga is a prospect on the radar for Palmerston North Airport's new chief executive David Lanham.

Three weeks into the job, he said building stronger links to main centres and other regions would take priority over chasing uneconomic international flights.

Lanham said the airport company was contemplating alternative uses for "Gate 5", the redundant international arrivals and departure lounge.

"As a region, we put a lot of money into that in the 1990s, but now it's just dead money.

"We need to open that up, and maybe use it for future air services, or as an additional lounge when we have disruptions, or for charters."

The best options for boosting traffic through the airport and for supporting regional growth were retaining services, securing new links, and providing international passengers with better connections.

Route development is one of Lanham's areas of expertise, and he was a part of the team that convinced Air New Zealand to reinstate Palmerston North to Nelson flights. Ensuring that the Nelson flights and services to Hamilton and Wellington remained sustainable would be important.

Developing stronger links with the regions was also on the wishlist.

Lanham said Air New Zealand traditionally linked regions directly to one of the main centres, and Palmerston North had worked hard to show region-to-region services could also work.

He was keen to see new regional connections established, and Tauranga was an obvious target.

"A lot of people retire there from Palmerston North," he said, and many people had friends and family there.

At the moment the only choice of flights went through Wellington or Auckland.

He said Palmerston North Airport hoped to work with Tauranga Airport, and other regional airports, to put the case for more services.

"We are developing alliances with other airports we see as strategic partners - a combined voice is a bit louder."

Palmerston North is the seventh largest airport in New Zealand, forecast to see more than 500,000 passengers through the terminal for the first time this year, building up from 444,000 in 2012.

Lanham said more frequent flights to more New Zealand destinations offering great connections for further travel was more sensible than vying for international flights or larger domestic jet services.

For international travel, he believed "bundled" deals such as the planned "Virtual trans-Tasman" concept were the way to go.

"Competitive packages that might include car park offers, and feed people through to Auckland where they have multiple choices of destinations, is a better offer than a midnight flight direct to Brisbane or Melbourne."

Manawatu Standard