Air Chathams steps in as Air NZ pulls out of Whanganui

Air New Zealand is stopping some loss-making regional flights.

Air New Zealand is stopping some loss-making regional flights.

Air Chathams is stepping into the gap left by Air New Zealand pulling out of Whanganui.

Air New Zealand announced on Monday it was discontinuing its Auckland-Whanganui route and Blenheim-Christchurch route.

Air New Zealand general manager of networks Richard Thomson said the airline had previously looked at discontinuing the Whanganui route in 2014.

"While the service was marginal, at that time we believed it was worth taking a chance on Whanganui and working with the local community in an effort to stimulate demand." 

He said despite almost halving the average fare on the route, passengers had voted with their feet by using the nearby Palmerston North Airport, only 70 kilometres away.

"The greater number of destinations, higher frequency of service and wider range of connecting options on offer at the neighbouring airport have unfortunately served to undermine demand for Whanganui services," he said.

Whanganui mayor Annette Main said the loss of the route would have been a major blow but, fortunately, Air Chathams had already stepped into the gap.

Air Chathams announced, almost simultaneously to Air New Zealand's announcement, they will be starting flights between Auckland and Whanganui as soon as Air New Zealand stops its service to the airport on July 31.

Their 19-seat Metroliner planes will fly the same weekday schedule as Air New Zealand currently does, but there will be some minor changes to weekend flights.

Whanganui MP Chester Borrows found it encouraging that Air Chathams had made a decision to take over the route.

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He said people wouldn't like Air New Zealand's decision but the best option was to move on.

"We can sulk about this and get no change, or shake the living daylight out of the opportunity we have to prove them wrong."

Air New Zealand said while the Christchurch-Blenheim service would also end, it planned to boost seats between Blenheim and Auckland and Wellington.

Customers booked to travel on suspended services past July 31 would be able to get a refund or choose a different airport to fly from.

The national carrier said on Monday that both loss-making routes would stop from July 31 as "unfortunately ... [these] services do not have sufficient passenger demand to sustain a 50-seat aircraft service, despite the continued efforts of Air New Zealand and local stakeholders".

In November 2014 Air New Zealand said it would retire its loss-making 19-seat Beech aircraft fleet in favour of the larger and more economically viable 50-seat Q300 aircraft in regional centres where if felt there was enough demand.

Main said the council looked forward to welcoming Air Chathams to the Whanganui Airport, and would be mounting a campaign to encourage the community to support the route.

Air Chathams chief executive Craig Emeny said he was encouraged by the resolve shown by Whanganui's elected representatives to support the Auckland-Whanganui service.

"We understand the commercial decisions that have prompted this decision from Air New Zealand.

"And we want to reassure the local community that Air Chathams will continue to work alongside the national carrier to ensure that Whanganui receives a safe, reliable air service enabling the region to continue to grow into the future."

 - Stuff


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