Business people call for cheaper regional fares

AUDREY MALONE
Last updated 05:00 30/08/2014

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Two South Canterbury business people have called for more reliable and cheaper regional flights out of Timaru.

Earlier this week Air New Zealand posted a $242 million profit, an increase of 45 per cent from last year, causing Prime Minister John Key to say making regional airfares accessible was a priority.

PrimePort Timaru chairman Roger Gower lives in Auckland but comes to Timaru about once a month for business.

He either flies into Christchurch and drives down, or direct into Timaru.

He said timing was not necessarily different despite having to do a two-hour drive.

"Early winter and spring I'll often choose the fly/drive Christchurch option so I don't get disrupted by the Beech aircraft not being able to get to Timaru. . .as you don't find out there's a problem until in Wellington.

"It is a headache to then solve if I have a tight meeting schedule in Timaru, predicated on making a specific flight," he said.

Gower said he spent his "formative" years in business in the aviation industry and understood the economics of bringing in larger aircraft to service the area, which would provide more certainty.

"Bigger aircraft [than the Beech] and a standard frequency to regional airports like Timaru would be good.

"There would be the confidence they will have less weather disruption and fly faster," he said.

However, having the larger aircraft meant more people would need to use the service, Gower said.

But that should not be an obstacle for Timaru.

"Timaru's not remote. It's the centre of action for South Island logistics and at PrimePort we are making the investment in people, plant, infrastructure and services to cement that spot."

The district was growing so demand should be building as well, he said.

"But the high fares put people off, particularly recreational."

South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce chief executive Wendy Smith said it had raised concerns over the cost of regional flights, in particular the local route with Air New Zealand.

"We believe the costs are prohibitive and this does lead to a number of travellers choosing to fly from Christchurch."

Chamber members were consistently concerned about the cost and reliability of services to Timaru, Smith said.

Although she said reliability had improved in the last 12 or 18 months.

"We would certainly encourage Air New Zealand to [try] a period with lower fees as feedback indicates this would change people's behaviours and increase numbers flying from Timaru."

Eagle Air, which flies out of Timaru, is one of the main subsidiaries of Air New Zealand Link along with Air Nelson and Mount Cook Airlines.

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Their results were not posted on the Companies Office website.

- The Timaru Herald

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