New hangar helps local economy fly

ROOM TO GROW: Air Nelson technical manager Rob Burdekin in the older part of the hangar at Nelson Airport.
ROOM TO GROW: Air Nelson technical manager Rob Burdekin in the older part of the hangar at Nelson Airport.

Air Nelson's $12 million hangar is a silver lining in the gloomy economic cloud hanging over the region.

The development has already landed the company a new aircraft maintenance contract that is bringing 30 new employees to the region and has provided greater job security for more than 80 existing staff.

The three-stage project began last November with the construction of a 5000-square-metre hangar and an office block. The offices are now in use and the hangar will be officially opened at a public day on August 14.

The only part left to complete is the refurbishment of the existing hangar, which was built in 1942 and is the earliest steel structure of its kind in the region.

Air Nelson technical manager Rob Burdekin said the project was running ahead of schedule and "significantly" under budget.

"With a building project, there's always a certain amount of contingency. It's about quotes coming in on target with estimates given by the quantity surveyor. I guess what we're saying is they did a fairly good job."

Mr Burdekin said Air Nelson had already employed 16 of the 30 new staff needed for the maintenance work it had secured on Mt Cook Airline's 11-strong fleet of ATR72 aircraft. Some of those new employees were trainees from Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology in Blenheim or the Air New Zealand training school in Christchurch.

Some people who were facing redundancy from Safe Air in Blenheim had also been employed, while other positions were filled by people returning from overseas, Mr Burdekin said.

"They need to have experience and qualifications in the industry, so we don't tend to get flooded with people."

Air Nelson conducts about 12 heavy maintenance checks a year, with each job lasting about two weeks. The new contract will see that increase to about 18 and the company is exploring opportunities to further increase its workload. "The potential that we're looking at right now is for another half-dozen checks a year  that's quite realistic."

Mr Burdekin said the ATR aircraft fleet was growing in the South Pacific region and the only other maintenance provider was Air Tahiti. "We see quite an opportunity there. We intend to make the most of that. It wouldn't have happened if we didn't have this facility."

Nelson stood to benefit significantly, he said. "You look at the contribution those extra 30 staff will bring to the region." Other businesses such as welders and upholstery firms were gaining work from doing things that were part of Air Nelson's core business, Mr Burdekin said.

The new hangar helps cement Nelson as a growing aviation hub, also being home to several helicopter firms.

Mr Burdekin said the Government's focus for aviation was too centred on places such as the Waikato. "To be honest, if you look at the money that's involved, you'd find this region's bigger. We'd like to see some of that focus and support."

The Nelson Mail