Sounds Air investigates larger planes between Blenheim and Christchurch
Marlborough airline Sounds Air is considering a "quantum leap" to larger aircraft on a route Air New Zealand ditched last year due to a lack of demand, its chief executive says.
The carrier operates a fleet of 12 and 9-seaters but is exploring larger aircraft on the Blenheim to Christchurch route it started flying in August.
Air New Zealand stopped offering direct flights between the centres last July, months after replacing its 19-seat Beechcraft 1900Ds on the route with 50-seat Bombardier Q300s.
Sounds Air chief executive Andrew Crawford, speaking at a public meeting on air services in Blenheim, said the airline was doing everything it could to provide a useful service.
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"One thing we're exploring is potentially larger aircraft, but to get larger aircraft is a quantum leap for a company like us," he said.
"It's a dramatic change to our business model. But we are certainly looking at it and if we do get larger aircraft Blenheim to Christchurch will be the route they go on."
The airline had ramped up operations on the route since last August, in part because of increased demand for flights following the earthquake and closure of State Highway 1.
Last week Sounds Air offered 22 return flights, however Crawford said the pressure on the service meant the airline was investigating introducing larger planes to meet demand.
The route was currently serviced by the 9-seat Pilatus PC-12s. Fares were a flat rate of $199 one way, or $398 return.
Crawford said the airline was still conducting due diligence, but said the introduction of larger planes would mean more variable fares, some cheaper and some more expensive.
There were no new models being manufactured in the capacity range between the 12-seat Cessna Caravan and the 70-seat ATR 72, so the company was looking at older models, he said.
These included the 19-seat Beechcraft 1900D that Air New Zealand had been flying on the route, and the 34-seat Saab 340.
The Sounds Air chief executive said a decision on the introduction of larger planes would be made within a month, and he believed there was enough demand to make it work.
However, the company was still looking at various factors, including cost, how larger planes would work at the airports, and where it would source the planes from.
Air New Zealand head of government and industry affairs Duncan Small said at the meeting, held in Blenheim on Tuesday, the airline was not going to reinstate the Blenheim to Christchurch route.
"We are confident in the reasons we had for stopping that service before the earthquake, which is that we don't see the long-term potential to grow the service into something that's viable on a 50-seat aircraft," he said.
- The Marlborough Express