18 October 2012

Queenstown and Christchurch services a no-goer

Mainland Air has abandoned plans to fly passenger services from Dunedin International Airport because of a lack of interest and is instead focusing on a service out of Oamaru. The company had considered launching trial routes from Dunedin to Queenstown and Christchurch, but a decision was made last week to abandon the plans. Mainland Air operations manager Philip Kean said there was a lack of interest in the routes. People had called to say the planned fares were too expensive. "I could see that all we were going to do was to burn a hole in the sky with petrol and get nowhere," Mr Kean said. However, the idea of flying passenger services from Oamaru Airport had attracted support and the company is looking at launching flights to and from Christchurch. "The whole town including council, industry and tourist providers have been very supportive," he said. The Waitaki District Council was aware of the company's plans and was enthusiastic about seeing the town's airport being used, he said. Mr Kean hoped to operate a Christchurch service to and from Oamaru Airport twice a day from mid-January next year. Depending on demand it would base either a five- or nine-passenger seat aircraft at Oamaru Airport. If there was lack of demand the company would quickly pull the service, as it did with its Dunedin plans. "We will pull it straight away. We can't afford to persevere. I don't think any business can these days." North Otago people have been told by both Tourism Waitaki and Chamber of Commerce to use the flights or lose them. Tourism Waitaki chairwoman Annabel Berry was thrilled Oamaru Airport again had a regular air service saying "it's something we've been wanting since they stopped". A direct link from Christchurch would help with Tourism Waitaki's plans to boost both domestic and international tourism, along with Oamaru attracting events and conferences. From a business perspective, the flights were also needed, but she emphasised keeping them would hinge on local support. Chairman of the North Otago advisory committee to the Otago Chamber of Commerce, Gary Kircher, urged not only business people but anyone flying to use the service so it was a success. He said the time and regularity of flights were important from a business point of view, particularly being able to connect with flights out of Christchurch. "We welcome anything which helps make business in and outside Oamaru easier, but we need to make sure it is well patronised," he said. Eagle Air operated a service into Oamaru for about three and a-half years before ending it on January 1, 2010.

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