The former Masterton airport terminal at Hood Aerodrome. PHOTO/FILE

‘Very early’ discussions under way

PAM GRAHAM
pam.graham@age.co.nz

Air Chathams is interested in operating air passenger services from Masterton Airport but will only do so if there is significant local support.

In response to questions from the Times-Age on Friday, Air Chatham general manager Duane Emeny comfirmed the airline had been in talks to operate in Masterton, and had put in a registration of interest when Masterton District Council called for them late last year.

A document on a government tender site last November said the Wairarapa community and council were seeking registrations of interest because both the Masterton district and Wairarapa region were experiencing strong growth in business and population.

Emeny said support from the council would be essential for a deal to proceed.

Depending on the type of aircraft operated, work on the runway could be required, he said, but he would not give further details.

The air service would be scheduled and would operate from the existing terminal but Emeny said discussions had not got down to details about what kind of planes would operate or the frequency of the service.

There was no timeline for a deal to be done and the airline says it would need to see a significant investment and support package before agreeing to provide any service.

“We would be interested if it makes sense commercially. That ultimately rests with the investment and support,” he said.

“The airline has not made any decisions on this service provision at all and does not want to give any false hope to the community.”

The airline has been operating on the Chatham Islands for more than 25 years and an Auckland base runs services to Whakatane, Whanganui and the Kapiti Coast.

It was interested in Auckland-to-Masterton services in 2014 after Air New Zealand pulled out but Masterton District Council picked Vincent Aviation, which collapsed soon after.

The council would only say that it was in “very early discussions” with a potential service provider.

The tender document last year said businesses and outside businesses operating in Masterton had expressed a desire to support a carrier operating into the town.

It says the council wished to conduct the project in a collaborative and open manner with potential suppliers. It talks about “some sort of financial contribution from council” and a due diligence to protect any ratepayer contribution.

Air New Zealand established a regular Masterton-Auckland daily service in 2009 but pulled the plug in early 2014.

An air passenger service linking Masterton and Auckland operated by Vincent Aviation was due to restart in mid-November of that year but the airline went bust.

The council’s decision to choose Vincent Aviation meant there was no immediate need for a runway extension for which $180,000 had been earmarked had Air Chathams won the day.

Wairarapa’s passenger air service history is a chequered one, with Wairarapa Airlines finally opting out in 1997, having failed in its bid to make the Masterton-Auckland route profitable.

It was followed by Air Wairarapa, which was short-lived and failed financially, and, subsequently, the Air New Zealand-backed Eagle Air service.