Fares sting South Canterbury fliers
The South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce has joined the chorus of concerns about the cost of regional airfares, but Air New Zealand has defended them.
The comments come after Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee told the New Zealand Airports Association conference the prices for regional airfares was not in line with the consumer price index for many areas, in contrast with the "competitive" rates for the main centres.
Chamber chief executive Wendy Smith shared Mr Brownlee's concerns.
"It's frequently brought up by chamber members at meetings or functions. Whether there has been any improvement in price, reliability or flexibility is hard to say. The Timaru airport's service is vital for the local economy, and we're keen to see it continue. However, it needs to be reliable and at a reasonable price."
Air NZ spokeswoman Marie Hosking said its average regional airfare was cheaper than four years ago.
However, the cost of operating a Beech 1900D turboprop aircraft, of the type that operates to and from Timaru, was five times higher per seat than an A320 jet used on major domestic routes.
"As a rule of thumb, the smaller the aircraft the higher the cost per seat to operate," she said.
Herald readers have reported return fares to Wellington in excess of $650.
According to Air NZ's website yesterday, prices for a Timaru to Wellington flight booked a month ahead ranged from $139 to $289, with similar prices for a return Wellington to Timaru trip the subsequent day.
In contrast, prices for a flight from Christchurch to Wellington on November 22 ranged from $69 to $234.
Mrs Smith acknowledged some people would drive to Christchurch and take flights to Wellington, rather than use Timaru's service. "There is often not enough demand for more than one carrier on a regional route. It's always going to come down to cost, convenience, and reliability, but there will be times when you need a direct service," she said.
Rangitata MP Jo Goodhew used the Timaru service about once a week, although this would alter according to commitments.
She said it was important there were a "range of prices" and offers for Timaru customers, but the key point was ensuring the service was reliable. The Timaru service is run by Air NZ subsidiary Eagle Air.
In November last year, Eagle Air's then-general manager Carrie Hurihanganui met council and community representatives in Timaru after numerous complaints about the service.
- © Fairfax NZ News