Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Kaitaia flights to be axed

Air New Zealand will axe all Kaitaia flights from April next year as part of a shake-up of its regional air services, but the news has shocked Far North leaders.

The announcement late yesterday may spell the end of Kaitaia airport, though it could survive as an airfield for small private aircraft or the odd charter flight.

It will leave Kerikeri, 70 minutes away over roads regularly closed by floods, the nearest airport for residents of the very Far North.

Also facing the axe are direct flights from Whangarei to Wellington, though Whangarei-Auckland flights will be boosted by a switch to bigger aircraft.

In Northland the biggest winner will be Bay of Islands Airport where all 19-seater Beechcraft planes will be replaced with 50-seater Bombardier Dash 8 Q300s early next year. Improvements to Kerikeri's runway are already underway with the terminal building due to be expanded next winter.

The news has shocked Kaitaia and comes, ironically, as Chinese investors plan a major hotel expansion on Karikari Peninsula which could greatly increase tourist arrivals.

Air New Zealand says the changes are necessary because its subsidiary Eagle Air, which operates the 19-seater planes, has lost $1 million a month for the past two years. The 19-seaters will be phased out altogether by August 2016 but the last flight which can be booked from Kaitaia is on April 28.

Te Hiku Community Board chairman Lawrie Atkinson was "gobsmacked" by the decision to axe Kaitaia's twice-daily flights, especially given the company's record profits last year. It showed no consideration for the social and economic effects on the people of Te Hiku ward, he said.

Labor's Transport spokesperson Phil Twyford described the news as a "hammer blow" to Kaitaia, Whakatane and Westport, which were being cut adrift from the national economy.

"The regions of New Zealand are being abandoned by this Government at a time when falling dairy prices mean they need help the most. Now Air New Zealand is twisting the knife. Regional air routes are economic lifelines to these places," he said.

Air NZ chief executive Christopher Luxon said the airline had been looking at the poor economics of its 19-seater aircraft, which had the highest per seat operating costs of its fleet, since the start of the year.

The Te Hiku Treaty Settlements Bill, which is making its way through Parliament, awards the land under Kaitaia Airport to Ngai Takoto with half earmarked for Ngati Kahu if it signs up at a later date.

- Source:  http://www.nzherald.co.nz