Commercial flights to Mt Cook return

MATTHEW LITTLEWOOD
Last updated 05:00 08/11/2011

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Commercial flights will return to Aoraki-Mt Cook next year for the first time in nearly a decade.

Christchurch International Airport chief executive Jim Boult yesterday announced a six-week trial of flights three days a week from December 23, 2012, to January 27, 2013.

The service will be run by Air New Zealand subsidiary Mt Cook Airline, using a 68-seat ATR aircraft, which has more than three times the seating capacity of the planes that depart from Richard Pearse Airport in Timaru.

The flights will leave Christchurch at 11.45am, arriving at Aoraki-Mt Cook at 12.25pm, then continue to Queenstown at 1.30pm. Return flights will depart Queenstown at 3.10pm, arrive in Aoraki-Mt Cook at 3.50pm, then depart for Christchurch at 4.30pm, arriving at 5.10pm.

Aoraki Mt Cook Village Ltd general manager Denis Callesen said he was delighted with the announcement.

"It's been a very long time between drinks," he said.

"The last time Air New Zealand had flights coming into Aoraki-Mt Cook village was way back in 2002. Although this is just a trial, we're hoping a lot of tourists will take to it, as the flights could cut more than three hours off their travel time compared to driving by car."

Mr Callesen said the Hermitage Hotel had been in discussions with Christchurch International Airport over the last year or so.

"When we put forward our proposal to them, we focused on the Japanese market," he said.

"A lot of Japanese tourists have very condensed holiday seasons, so this will give them the opportunity to have an extra day in the region. So it's not just good news for Mt Cook Village, it's good news for Tekapo, Twizel and Omarama."

Mr Callesen said the announcement was particularly welcome after a "difficult year" for tourism, with visitor numbers still reeling from the Canterbury earthquakes.

"Anything that improves access to the place is a step in the right direction."

Pukaki Airport Board spokesman Rick Ramsay said the announcement was a nice surprise.

"When they had commercial flights touch down at Mt Cook, the Pukaki Airport would be used in times of bad weather," he said.

"Obviously, we would be keen to see that happen again, but Air New Zealand's announcement is great news regardless."

Mt Cook Airport is just 8km from the Hermitage Hotel. Aoraki Mt Cook Village Ltd chairman John Davies bought the airport from Air New Zealand in 2002.

Mr Boult said the work the Davies family had done in improving the Hermitage Hotel's facilities, along with a resurgence in the Japanese tourism market, made the proposal to offer flights economically viable.

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"I am extremely pleased on the work done by both the Davies family and CIAL to get the proposal to this stage. We're all really excited and optimistic," he said.

It is understood that should Air New Zealand's trial run prove successful, there could be the chance of the service running every December to March.

Mr Callesen said: "Everyone has done the hard work getting it to this stage. We're just hoping for some bums on seats."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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