Wairarapa flights set for takeoff

The first commercial airline service for Wairarapa is poised to take flight early next year.

Wairarapa's tourism and economic development agency Go Wairarapa has been negotiating with Air New Zealand to fly into the region.

The push to convince an established airline that services into the Wairarapa would be viable stepped up a notch this year after a local survey showed strong demand for a commercial airline.

The initiative, driven by Go Wairarapa, aimed to pinpoint who would use a Masterton to Auckland direct service and how much they would be prepared to pay.

The agency's economic development manager, Geoff Copps, said results strengthened talks with Air New Zealand. The airline confirmed it was in discussions on the subject but would not comment further.

Mr Copps said officials had been talking to Air New Zealand for about a year on all aspects of operating a service and catering for a 20-seater aircraft at Masterton's Hood Aerodrome.

Mr Copps said though no firm deal had been struck, an announcement was expected next month, with a planned start to services in early 2008.

Hood Aerodrome would need improvements.

"They would quite like to have a terminal and while we are not talking about building a world-class-type facility, there needs to be some structure in place so there is still some work that needs to be done."

Once the makeover at the aerodrome is signed off, the final decision on the extent of the service and firm start dates will be agreed to.

The airport is owned by Masterton District Council and though the onus is not on the council to build a terminal or to convert existing buildings into a terminal facility, the council has shown a strong interest in investment.

Air New Zealand would then lease the building.

Hood Aerodrome - once considered a liability for the district - is now busy with recreational and commercial operators.

Previous attempts to operate commercial passenger services from Hood have failed.

Former Masterton surgeon Guy Hingston was forced to shut down his Air Wairarapa after Air New Zealand cut fares in 2002.

The Dominion Post