Push for NZ-Aust flights for Palmerston North
Renewed efforts are under way to bring trans-Tasman flights back to Palmerston North, this time by promoting the lower North Island as a tourist destination for Australians.
Palmerston North Airport is working with Destination Manawatu, tourism providers, and territorial authorities across the lower North Island on the project.
A website would be launched by the end of March and a marketing campaign was in the works, Destination Manawatu chief executive Lance Bickford said.
The aim was to position Palmerston North as the hub in the centre of a range of tourist activities, with the city's airport as the gateway.
"We are working across the wider region to build the proposal, it's not just about Manawatu and what we offer, it's about the wider lower North Island."
Mr Bickford said that within easy access of Palmerston North were a range of tourist experiences including Ruapehu's skifields, walking tracks, the Whanganui River and Hawke's Bay's wineries.
The campaign and website would also be aimed at domestic tourists.
Palmerston North Airport chief executive Darin Cusack said that bringing international flights back to Palmerston North was a goal with wide support. The last trans-Tasman flights from Palmerston North departed in March 2008 after Air New Zealand wound up its low-cost subsidiary Freedom Air.
The now defunct OzJet airline was set to take over the service, but pulled out just days before its scheduled launch in 2008, while Pacific Blue had also been rumoured at the time to be looking at flying to the city. Only Air New Zealand flies domestic services to Palmerston North Airport, with flights between the city and Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch.
Mr Bickford said Freedom Air had proven profitable despite most passengers being New Zealanders heading to or from Australia.
Freedom Air had no presence or marketing in Australia, he said.
"If we can create some demand from the other side of the Tasman then you have a double whammy."
That demand would help sell to airlines the business case for direct flights between Palmerston North and Australia's eastern states, he said.
It was inevitable international flights would return to the city, Mr Bickford said, but they would return sooner if the region's leaders were proactive.
Palmerston North Mayor Jono Naylor said the council had always thought there was a good case for an airline to run trans-Tasman flights to the city.
"What hasn't always been widely considered is the lower North Island as a tourist destination, as a package."
Mr Naylor said the infrastructure for international flights was still in place at Palmerston North.
The runway could be extended to accommodate larger jets "if required".
If the runway was extended, Milson Line, classed by the city council as a "principal road" linking Palmerston North to Feilding, would need to be deviated.
The cost of the marketing campaign was yet to be determined, but Mr Bickford said negotiations were under way with territorial authorities in the lower North Island.