Chathams airline eyes Wairarapa route

WALT DICKSON
Last updated 11:43 18/06/2014

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Air Chathams could be flying the Masterton to Auckland route within a few months, providing both the local business community and council stump up with the necessary cash.

The airline was one of two being courted to fill the gap after Air New Zealand ditched the service in February.

However Vincent Aviation emerged as the preferred provider, offering a significantly bigger aircraft. The Vincent proposal involved the community either buying or leasing a Saab aircraft which would then be operated by the company.

But last month the Vincent option hit major turbulence when the company in Australia went into recievership.

Wairarapa MP John Hayes, who formed the Masterton Airport Steering Committee, says there is now an agreement among the interested parties to resume discussions with Air Chathams, which has confirmed it is prepared to re-visit the earlier negiotiations.

Hayes says the company advises that if demand for the service is such that a larger plane can operate on a commercial basis it will be prepared to upscale to a larger aircraft.

The priority now is to find shareholders prepared to contribute about $100,000 to establish a 50/50 limited liability company with Air Chathams to run a Masterton to Auckland service, Hayes says.

As soon as a joint venture company is formed it will put a proposal to the Masterton District Council asking it to extend the runway to allow the Air Chathams Metroliner to lift off with an additional two passengers (a capacity of 18), Hayes says. It was understood that the Masterton airstrip would need to be extended by 70 metres at a cost of $150,000.

"When that undertaking is secured Air Chathams advise they will begin a service two weeks later."

Masterton has been without an air service for almost six months and faces another six to eight weeks' delay, Hayes says.

"There is an economic cost to the community from this breakdown and a new operator faces a much more difficult start-up because businesses are buying discounted tickets from Palmerston North as far ahead as November; it will take time for a new operator to recover those passengers and re-establish full loads," he says. However, Hayes says he is very confident that the Air Chathams option will succeed, with community support.

See Hayes-House page 14.

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