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Air Chathams keen to land Masterton

With the Hood Aerodrome improvement project about to get underway, one airline is already putting its hand up to express an interest in providing an air service.

Air Chathams chief operating officer Duane Emeny is enthusiastic about the prospect of launching an air link between Wairarapa and Auckland, saying the airline has always had an interest in the region.

“We’ve seen a huge amount of growth in Wairarapa over the past decade,” Emeny said, noting the burgeoning wine and tourism industries and high-profile investment in the area and describing the region as being “on the up and up”.

Air Chathams put a bid in for the route after Air New Zealand announced its permanent departure 10 years ago but was unsuccessful, losing out to Vincent Aviation Australia – a venture that failed after the company went into receivership.

Four years ago, Air Chathams was asked if it wished to service the region but had to decline because the aerodrome wasn’t certified for the 34-seat Saab aircraft the airline operates, Emeny explained.

“The runway was too narrow and the airport itself was not certified,” he said.

“We couldn’t operate from there in 2020 as much as we would have liked to.”

But now Masterton District Council [MDC] – with government funding assistance, is about to begin the required upgrades and improvements to Hood Aerodrome.

Work is expected to start in March with the runway resurfacing and widening, an apron expansion, and the installation of security fencing to help the aerodrome meet CAA qualification certification.

Emeny said once this is completed, Air Chathams would have the opportunity to provide an air service for Wairarapa residents again, although there would still be some restrictions due to the runway length – namely, the number of tickets it could sell on flights taking off from Hood Emeny said that while the runway length wouldn’t impact flights landing at the aerodrome, “for take-off, there will be a penalty – we won’t be able to sell 34 seats on that aircraft”.

As a result, Air Chathams would look to sell between 27 to 30 seats per flight for take-off from Hood Aerodrome, which would mean a higher price point to make the service viable.

“Those are the conversations we are having right now with the district council plus the business community,” Emeny said.

Business Wairarapa is currently running a survey to provide tangible evidence of the community’s interest in air travel returning to the region.

Emeny also noted that one of the biggest risks to Air Chathams being able to provide a service to Wairarapa will be CAA approval of the runway end safety area.

Standard runways have a 240-metre end safety area, although this can sometimes be reduced to 90m, which Emeny noted Kapiti Coast Airport is an example of.

Emeny said the council would need to put a safety case forward to reduce the area from 240m to 90m, which is “still a lot of space if something did go wrong” for the Saab aircraft the airline wishes to operate.

Emeny said the public’s response to the survey “shows that there’s a real interest here in this and what we’re proposing”, and added he is keen to build relationships with local companies and see if there is any potential for business connections.

“We’re a nice small little niche airline, so we can have conversations with people and if the idea sounds good, we can have a crack.”

Air Chathams believes Masterton could operate at a similar capacity to its Whanganui route, Emeny said, although the final results of the survey could determine the future of the air link.

“We want people to be honest,” Emeny said.

“If they do think it is really important and they do think it can bring those wider economic development benefits to the region, we’re pretty keen to provide a service.”

4 COMMENTS

  1. Great news indeed.
    “A premium” can go either of 2 ways.
    1. The cost/time saving of 1.5-2hours drive, each way to WLG, airport parking, flight return costs, etc
    2. It could be just too much of a premium, that even with these cost/benefits taken in to account, an individual or business may dictate you have to fly “the cheapest option”.
    Good luck!

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