A big, black plane touched down at New Plymouth airport yesterday, heralding a new era in regional aviation in New Zealand.
The plane was a brand-new French-built ATR-600 just delivered from its factory at Toulouse, and on board were the general managers of both Mt Cook Airlines and Air Nelson.
The two companies are responsible for the lion's share of Air New Zealand Link services to regional airports throughout the country.
Air New Zealand is spending $300 million buying seven of the 68-seat planes, and has options for a further five.
The new ATRs will add to an existing Mt Cook Airlines fleet of 11 older ATR-500 planes, plus the Air Nelson 23-strong fleet of 50-seat Bombardier Q300 - and that will mean many more aircraft will be available to improve scheduled services through regional centres such as New Plymouth.
"As we add these new planes to the Link fleet, you'll see new services being added where they are needed," said Mt Cook Airlines general manager Sarah Williamson.
"Between us and Air Nelson we'll be able to allocate different aircraft to meet demand," she said.
Air Nelson general manager Grant Kerr said New Plymouth would almost certainly see improvements to scheduled services as the overall Link fleet enlarged. Yesterday's visit was part of tour to Nelson and New Plymouth which are the two airports that have recently started to be serviced by the larger ATR planes in an effort to meet growing demand for seats on Air New Zealand Link flights.
Resplendent in special black paintwork and with a large silver fern down its fuselage, the ATR-600 has new-age reclining seats and larger overhead lockers than those aboard the ATR-500s.
Those older planes will undergo their own refits to get the new seats and lockers.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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