Air New Zealand regional affairs manager Ian Collier speaking to the Wairarapa Chamber of Commerce on Thursday. PHOTO/STEVE RENDLE

STEVE RENDLE
steve.rendle@age.co.nz

Reinstating an air service out of Masterton would not necessarily be a panacea for Wairarapa’s transport ills, says Air New Zealand’s regional affairs manager Ian Collier.

In Masterton at the invitation of the Wairarapa Chamber of Commerce, Mr Collier encouraged the community to have a conversation about an air service but said it should be considered as part of a wider look at the region’s transport requirements.

“I absolutely think the conversation is worth thrashing out . . . but you need to look at it from a holistic point of view – in the past we haven’t had that,” he said.

“It may be that the region is better served by rail, if money is put into it.”

Air New Zealand ran a service in Masterton through its subsidiary, Eagle Air, from 2009 until it was cancelled in 2013 due to a reduction of the Beechcraft fleet of 19-seater aircraft.

The smallest aircraft it flies now is a 50-seater.

In 2014, Masterton District Council accepted a proposal from Vincent Aviation to operate weekday flights over its rival, Air Chathams, but the company went into liquidation later that year and the service never eventuated.

Mr Collier said making the route economic and attractive to customers would be challenging.

Along with a large enough customer base, an air service would have to be able to offer to attract passengers in sufficient numbers, run a schedule that was more attractive than driving to Wellington or Palmerston North where there are multiple flights each day and contend with competition among operators.

“We’ve already said we don’t see a future in Air New Zealand flying in and out of Masterton,” Mr Collier said.

“But we have also said there is a conversation about air services to be had.”

Mr Collier said a discussion on the region’s transport needs should involve roading and rail representatives, as well as air service providers, and central government.

“If we are invited to the table, we will contribute. We have a view from 35,000 feet up, and this is what we are looking down,” he said.

If a smaller operator was to take up a Masterton-Auckland route, Mr Collier said it would be challenging to set up the infrastructure and systems to offer a service that allowed passengers to check-in baggage in Masterton and have that automatically transferred to a connecting Air New Zealand flight.

“You have to be prepared to put your brand and reputation on the line.

“If your bag doesn’t turn up, I know where you would turn to for answers.”