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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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Airline campaign takes off

Not for the first time in recent years, there’s growing hope that regional air travel might take off again from Masterton’s Hood Aerodrome, with Business Wairarapa “gauging what the appetite is” via a survey of potential users.

Business Wairarapa general manager Nicola Belsham said the survey is seeking to establish the level of demand for an air service before the organisation goes further with a formal proposal.

The survey, posted on Tuesday evening, has already garnered a “massive response”, with about 85 per cent of respondents in favour of the return of air travel to the region.

Belsham said the response had been “bigger than any other survey we have conducted in the past” and the organisation will keep it open for another two weeks.

There are a couple of options being proposed, and a smaller aircraft wouldn’t need an extension of the runway, she said.

“It really comes down to the size of the aircraft so that’s why we’re collecting this information in terms of how often people would use the service, what they expect to pay, and so on because all of that is going to feed into what the final service would look like,” Belsham said.

“We really just want to gauge what the appetite is.”

Air New Zealand ceased its regional service to Masterton’s Hood Aerodrome almost exactly 10 years ago.

The now-retired Beechcraft 1900D used to grace the skies above Masterton until 2014, when the service was no longer considered “economically sustainable”, according to Air New Zealand general manager domestic Iain Walker.

“While we currently don’t have any plans to reinstate operation services to Masterton, we still remain engaged with the region,” Walker said.

Hangar owner and aircraft operator Craig Bowyer said he would welcome air travel’s return to the region and noted that the benefits to Wairarapa’s economy and tourism industry would “more than justify this service being reinstated”.

He believes an air service would be a great plus for Masterton and has no concerns about its impact on the aerodrome.

“This would have no effect on current aircraft operators,” Bowyer said.

“We all welcome better utilisation of the field.”

Bowyer noted the extra costs the lack of an air service imposes on Wairarapa travellers, who must drive to Wellington to catch a flight, paying for petrol and parking in the process.

“There’s a lot of money being spent on this field in the next year or so,” he said.

“We need to make sure we’re getting the best benefit.”

Masterton District Council [MDC] community general manager Corin Haines said MDC had been involved in discussions about the survey as a member of Business Wairarapa and encouraged people with an interest in the subject to complete the survey.

“A key part of the economics of any move to start a regular passenger service is understanding the demand,” he said.

Since Air New Zealand ceased passenger services in 2014, there has been “regular comment and discussion in the community about a return of passenger services”, Haines said.

“Ultimately, the return of a regular passenger service is reliant on an interested airline operator, but MDC supports the return of a passenger service under the right conditions and may consider supporting this through incentives and some funding.”

Work at Hood Aerodrome is scheduled to start in early March to widen and re-seal the runway – a project partially funded by the government’s infrastructure fund, announced in 2020.

“The return of a passenger service to Masterton is not the primary focus of the current infrastructure work at Hood. However, it would be necessary to support such a return, and it is consistent with the Masterplan,” Haines said.

“The Civil Aviation Authority also requires Hood to gain certification as a qualifying aerodrome by 1 July 2025.”

Anybody wishing to complete the survey can do so at surveymonkey.com/r/P29QRRX

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