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Our need to take flight

Air New Zealand’s last flight from Masterton in February 2014. PHOTO/FILE

DON FARMER

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Losing a commercial air service from Hood Aerodrome has had a “catastrophic effect” on an otherwise booming Masterton district the New Zealand Airports annual conference in Wellington was told yesterday.

In a hard-hitting speech to the conference Masterton mayor Lyn Patterson said the only sticking point with the district’s prosperity was poor transport links, including having no passenger air service.

Whereas she was “very proud to tell you our town is booming” Mrs Patterson said it was being held back because of transport.

Masterton has had the highest GDP growth in the greater Wellington region for the last three years, and it’s still  rising.

House sales, consents issued, vehicle registrations and annual earnings were increasing at a much faster rate “ than the rest of Wellington and the rest of New Zealand.”

“We are experiencing sustained population growth with a steady stream of families and new businesses moving to the town all the time.

“They are mainly people who are sick and tired of metropolitan living and are looking for a better, more affordable place to raise their family.

“We are fortunate to have ultrafast broadband, but we certainly haven’t got ultrafast transport links,” Mrs Patterson said.

There had been a daily Air New Zealand service between Masterton and Auckland from 2009 until the start of 2014.

“Of all the regional services that closed at that time we are the only location which still does not have a replacement.

“The decision to cease operations out of Hood Aerodrome has had a catastrophic effect on our ability to do business with the rest of the country,” she said.

Wairarapa was a rural area that relied heavily on the Life Flight service as often the only way of transporting seriously ill or injured people to emergency medical care.

Despite no commercial airline operating out of Hood, the aerodrome and runway needed to be maintained to a high standard for the “vital life-saving service.”

Underwriting initial losses and maintaining good airport infrastructure gave potential airline operators confidence as it reduced risks presented by narrow runways, low passenger numbers and ageing facilities.

“No operator will come to town unless those risks are mitigated and there are facilities available matching their aircraft type.

“All this costs money and that comes from one source alone, the ratepayer,” Mrs Patterson said.

Masterton District Council had worked hard to keep rates down with an increase of 2.3 per cent.

“An investment of say $1m at Hood would hike that up by another four per cent.

“That’s not acceptable to our council, and not acceptable to our community.”

Mrs Patterson said there was a “significant disparity” between the various transport links.

“The New Zealand Transport Agency looks after our main roads and we maintain the rest, assisted by a 57 per cent NZTA subsidy.

“It’s our biggest single area of investment and more than half of it is funded by central government.

“Yet when it comes to airport infrastructure, we are expected to pick up the entire bill,” she said.

Mrs Patterson said she was constantly lobbied by businesses and others over the need for an air service.

“We need an air service for economic reasons, tourism, business and even the basics of social cohesion.

“Aunty and uncle in Auckland don’t fancy flying to Wellington or Palmerston North and then having to cross the Rimutaka Hill or travel the Saddle Road twice, so they don’t come here anywhere near as often as they would like.”

She also spoke of the problems the district could face in the event of disasters such as a major earthquake which could result in Rimutaka Hill Road being closed for a lengthy period and trains being out of action.

“It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where we are cut off, unable to leave or receive help we desperately need.

“This may just be the most important reason why we need a regular passenger air service.”

1 COMMENT

  1. Dear Editor,

    Airport Improvements and Extension???

    After years of almost pleading with Aviation and Government to provide regular passenger flights for Masterton we now have an amazing offer from the combined forces of Government to spend and spend on a “shovel ready” project to extend and improve Hood Aerodrome. Well, perhaps by the end of the year.
    Air New Zealand withdrew the Beechcraft 1900D service stating they were losing $25 per head per flight.
    We were not asked to top up the difference. That was one solution! Or they might have reduced overall flights and kept the aircraft full.
    Anyway; Air NZ had decided to go to larger aircraft which could not service smaller airports. Logical yes,on the balance sheet; but that excluded Masterton and many other provinces. So who is going to guarantee a service from the revamped airport?? None of the existing operators can afford to come. Again, their larger aircraft need twice as many bods on seats to be viable. But notably none of the smaller aircraft operators have shown up either. I hate to think that this marvelous offer will end up under utilised or not used at all. We need to fully evaluate the costs and benefits otherwise it will be a rates burden.
    And we have enough of those already.

    In Anticipation Byron L Knight

Comments are closed.

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