Concern for the future of Kāpiti Coast Airport after Air New Zealand axes flights
Angry commuters are worried the axing of Air New Zealand flights will spell the end of Kāpiti Coast Airport.
The national carrier announced on Friday it was canning its service between Auckland and Paraparaumu, north of Wellington, from April 3.
The move means Kāpiti is left with two providers, offering flights only to Nelson and Blenheim.
Many in the district fear the demise of Auckland flights, following the axing of Air NZ's Christchurch service in 2015, will lead to the airport site being carved up for housing.
Real estate agent and Porirua Chamber of Commerce chairman Euon Murrell said the 125-hectare site, owned by the Todd Property Group, was perfectly positioned in the centre of Paraparaumu and close to the new expressway.
"The Todd family are developers, not airport owners, and I believe this leaves the door right open."
In November, Kāpiti Coast District Council eased restrictions in its District Plan to allow residential and business development of 85ha of the site after Todd Property Group said only 40ha were needed for airport operations.
Aviation expert Irene King said there had always been a tension in Paraparaumu between the demand for more housing and retaining the airport.
"My understanding is there's some restrictions in its use, and that it has to remain as an airport. [It's] part of the purchase and sale agreement to the company."
She was surprised to hear about Air New Zealand's decision, and thought the service would have been doing well financially. She thought it likely the airport could attract an alternative provider.
Air NZ said on Friday that it would support any other airline that wanted to operate the Auckland route, and Sounds Air, which already flies from Paraparaumu, has raised the possibility that it might.
"Now that Air New Zealand are pulling out, we might have to review the situation," managing director Andrew Crawford said.
The prospect of a new service will provide a glimmer of hope for travellers bitterly disappointed by Friday's news.
Pauline McGlinchey had booked three future Auckland flights from Paraparaumu, two of which were international connections.
"This is terrible news. We are appalled at the loss of the service and short notice, especially after holding an open promotional day last Saturday."
Raumati man Mike Bradstock received an email from Air New Zealand on Friday, telling him his April 4 flight to Auckland had been rebooked. It did not give him any further details.
"It beggars belief that any business in this country can take an advance booking and payment in full, then later renege on the deal purely to suit itself," he said.
"Air New Zealand should at the very least continue the service until it has honoured all existing bookings."
Kāpiti Mayor K Gurunathan said the surprise announcement had been "really badly handled" by the airline, which he blamed for any problems with flights from the airport.
"It's part of their own making. They're unreliable, they have problems with their scheduling, they cancel flights so people are forced to go back to Wellington at the last moment. They have created the suituation."
David Brinsley, who described himself as a regular user of the Auckland service, told Stuff: "Their rationale is rubbish as the morning flight north and evening flight south were well used. Their service did suffer from unreliability, especially lately, so they've got to take some blame."
Air NZ said it made the decision because it was "currently making domestic schedule adjustments to better match its aircraft seat capacity to areas of growing customer demand, and is committed to continuing to grow the wider regional network".
Todd Property Group managing director Evan Davies said the company had worked hard over the years to support airline services.
"Kāpiti Coast Airport is carefully considering Air New Zealand's announcement, and what it will mean for the airport. This will include consideration of alternative airlines that may be interested in operating the Auckland-Kāpiti route."
The group did not respond to questions about whether it was looking to develop the land for housing.
Transport Minister Phil Twyford said air services to the regions were a vital lifeline for communities.
"While the Government – even though a major shareholder – doesn't have the ability to direct Air NZ on operational matters, I'm concerned about what the loss of these services could mean for the Kāpiti Coast."