Air New Zealand happy with demand for flights between Timaru and Wellington
Air New Zealand is happy with regional demand of flights between Timaru and the capital.
The airline replaced its 19-seat Beech aircraft with 50-seat Q300 aircraft on routes between Timaru and Wellington in April this year.
However, daily commuter return flights between Wellington and Timaru have been reduced to one from December 25 to January 8 because of low demand.
In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the airline said it would not release loading (seating) information on the route because it was commercially sensitive.
Load factors varied from route to route, "but Air New Zealand is happy with current demand on our regional network".
Senior economist Benje Patterson, of Infometrics, said Air New Zealand needed to fill, on average, 80 per cent of its seats to get a good level of profit.
"Domestically it averages at 80 per cent ... We know they're getting good profits at that.
"If it's dropping substantially below that, you have got to question if they are getting a substantial return to continue to fly it."
Patterson said it was normal for airlines to balance its schedules to make sure it was making a return, and in Timaru's case, it was predominately catered to a "business market".
"Planes are very expensive assets. You need to see a return."
Patterson said moving from the 19-seater to the 50-seater aircraft was part of a change in focus for the airline nationally, moving to mid-sized turbo prop aircraft from "pencil" planes.
"Air New Zealand in the past has obviously reconfigured its regional network, making sure it [was] meeting customer demand and getting optimal return out of [its] fleet," he said.
The airline would give the route a "bit of time" before deciding upon any changes, which would be well-signalled ahead of time.
The last round of regional restructure gave several months warning, giving plenty of other smaller airlines to "fill the void".
Federated Farmers national president Dr William Rolleston said he used the service once or twice a week regularly, and said he did a head count of people on each flight.
Rolleston said he could remember only one flight where there were about 20 people on it.
They were "consistently" fuller compared to the smaller planes, he said.
"So it gives me the impression more people are going through than they were before [the new airplanes were put into service]. They never ran out of car parks before until the new service came in."
Rolleston had no issue with the airline cancelling flights during the holidays, especially if it meant tickets were less expensive throughout the year as a result, he said.
Incumbent mayor Damon Odey said the service was well supported and noted the "tripling" of cars parking at the airport, including some parking on the grass.
Odey said he noticed flights on the weekend were also full when he used the service.
"I believe there's good demand there."
The introduction of the 50-seater planes had also reduced the costs of tickets significantly which was a benefit to the district, he said.
Mayoral candidate Phil Smith said Air New Zealand's response was a broad statement and was not specific enough.
Smith said the real focus should be whether the Timaru airport was being utilised right as a resource to help local businesses grow.