Cut-price airline preferred choice for Tron

ANDREA FOX AND DANIEL ADAMS
Last updated 05:00 17/08/2012

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Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker is talking down the likelihood of ratepayer-funded incentives to lure a new international carrier to the city's airport.

Trans-Tasman airline Virgin Australia is pulling out of the city on October 27 after three years, citing falling patronage.

The hunt is on for a new operator - preferably a cut-price airline because history shows Waikato people support budget trans-Tasman carriers - with the airport company and 50 per cent owner Hamilton City Council resolving to work together to recapture the more than $100 million in economic benefits Virgin is estimated to have generated for the region over three years.

Airport management will not comment on any incentive packages to attract another airline.

Chairman John Birch said the issue is commercially sensitive, but that any operator starting up in the region would be in line for marketing incentives from either the airport company or the region.

Hamilton's regional trans-Tasman airport rival is Rotorua. Owner Rotorua District Council last year committed $1 million to a joint venture marketing programme with Air New Zealand to attract Australian visitors.

Rotorua Mayor Kevin Winters said the economic return from international services was independently assessed at $50m-$100m a year which, coupled with its big investment in the airport, justified ratepayer support.

Air New Zealand has flown trans-Tasman from Rotorua since late 2009, and Mr Winters said while some winter services had been cancelled, loadings were good and extra flights to Sydney had been confirmed for summer.

But Hamilton's mayor said Rotorua's relationship was with Air New Zealand.

"They pay that to ensure they fly into Rotorua from a tourism perspective.

"At this stage I don't think that will be necessary for us, we haven't had to do that in the past and we've been able to secure international carriers.

"We're working with the airport board and there's no suggestion at all that will be part of the package," Ms Hardaker said.

Budget airline Jetstar, which aviation sector experts say would be a good fit for Hamilton provided Waikato people mobilised to attract it, yesterday said it was "always open to working with airports to explore opportunities".

"New Zealand is a key market for Jetstar and an important part of our wider Pan-Asian strategy," a spokesperson for the Qantas subsidiary said.

"We are always examining opportunities for growth across New Zealand.

"However launching services to a new destination depends on a number of factors including passenger demand."

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Hamilton City Council chief executive Barry Harris will meet with airport company executives in the next week to formulate a strategy to attract a new airline.

The council will act on behalf of the other four shareholding councils, all of which hold much smaller stakes.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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