08 October 2013

Please Air New Zealand, talk to the regions

The cuts in regional services have been in the news of late and have been discussed on this blog and on other forums. But what has not been discussed is the breakdown in the relationship between the "national" carrier and the regions. Take the Westport cuts for example...
On the 23rd of September the Westport News carried an article asking the questions as to whether Westport services were being cut... 
It seems Air New Zealand will withdraw its Saturday service to Westport from the middle of next February. Wednesday evening flights may also be in the gun. Local woman Jackie Mathers alerted The News to the Saturday cancellations, saying she'd been advised of a "schedule change" for "operational reasons" regarding a flight she'd booked...  Air New Zealand didn't respond to The News' questions by deadline today asking it to confirm it was cutting the flights. However, the airline's booking website said no seats were available on Saturday flights between Westport and Wellington from February 15 onward.
The Westport News is a great advocate for the local air service but also a good watchdog to make sure the airline gives Westport a fair deal. The article continued giving a fair assessment of why services were being cut.
Westport Airport chief executive Bede Brown said he'd heard rumours cancellations were planned, but had had no formal notification of the cuts. He thought cancellations might include Westport's Wednesday evening flights. Mr Brown said the number of people going through Westport's airport had fallen since the downturn in mining last October, and was continuing to fall. He wasn't surprised that Westport was facing cuts and said it wasn't the only place in New Zealand facing them. "The message to people is use it or lose it."

The next day the News reported that Air New Zealand has confirmed it will be cancelling some of its Westport flights, but won't say which ones. "Won't say which ones!" Come on Air NZ, get real! The local paper had already found out that Air New Zealand's booking website shows no seats are available on Saturday flights between Westport and Wellington from February 15. There are also rumours Westport's Wednesday evening flights may go.  

On the third day Air New Zealand finally came clean. The paper reported Air New Zealand has confirmed its Wednesday morning return service between Westport and Wellington will be cancelled early next year and the Saturday return service will follow. The airline said it would be reducing the Westport to Wellington schedule from 12 to 11 return services a week early in the year, then further reduced to 10 return services per week.   

Air New Zealand, has a monopoly within New Zealand and given its bail out by the Government it has, I believe, a social responsibility to provide a good air service throughout the country. True, it has to exercise economic responsibility as well but what the "national" carrier has lost sight of here is the relationship it has with the regions. The fact that the local newspaper found out about the cuts and there was no dialogue between Eagle Air and the Westport Airport Authorities is not a good sign for future development of air services to the regions.

Was it the same with the cuts to Masterton and Wanganui? Was there a dialogue with the local authorities to work at improving the viability of the services or did the axe just fall?

And its not only the bad news stories where there is a lack of dialogue... If there is good news to be shared it too needs to be put out in the public forum as well. On the 14th of September Whangarei's Northern Advocate carried a story about the on-going problems with the Beech 1900 service to Whangarei. Seventeen passengers had booked on the Auckland to Whangarei flight on Sunday but only six were allowed to fly as rain, and wind speed and direction at their destination made landing difficult. The story went on about the issue with Beech 1900 operations at Whangarei and the difficulties the passengers experienced.

A couple of weeks later DHComet on his blog noted that Air NZ subsidiary Eagle Air is set to downsize its Whangarei operations significantly from February 2014. At that time Air Nelson will introduce four daily Q300 services between Auckland and Whangarei. Eagle Air will have just one flight per week on the route on a Friday evening. Eagle will also retain its weekday Whangarei-Wellington-Whangarei service (see http://newzealandaviationaddict.blogspot.co.nz/2013/10/eagle-air-to-dramatically-downsize.html). Surely this is a good news story the Whangarei newspaper should have been told about.

DHComet has also picked up expansion on other services including flights to Blenheim, Palmerston North, Napier, New Plymouth, Nelson and Tauranga. Where is the press coverage?



The reality is air travel is now the most used public transport in New Zealand. People in the regions want to see their air services developed and to be affordable. That's only going to happen if there is a good relationship between Air NZ and the regions. I hope that happens... but in the back of my mind there is a sneaky suspicion Air NZ wants to drastically cut the number of its domestic ports and or to quit the Beech 1900. That the Beech 1900 is increasingly becoming an uneconomic option is clear. Perhaps the challenge is to work with the regions to operate another alternative. But that would take an innovative airline that cared!


  1. The days of an air service to most parts of the country are fast approaching an end. New Zealand has always been unique in that small towns, often within driving distance of a bigger city, have maintained scheduled and unsubsidised services. Whilst being government owned, the message communicated to Air New Zealand is clear. The government is not interested in providing a community service, it wants a reasonable return on investment and to that point, unprofitable flights will go, strong markets will continue to grow. Expect to see more small centres disappear from the network in coming years.

    New Zealanders in general are unrealistic in terms of their expectations around air travel and it has been this way for many years e.g. the moment an area hits 100,000 people, they think they warrant International services to Aussie. The loss of services to some regions might seem like a bit of a hit but they will adapt. Mark my words, in each centre affected, a shuttle operator (if one doesn't already exist) will spring up, offer airport transfers and likely at a cost to the passenger (when combined with the air ticket) lower than required to sustain a 1900 operation.

  2. Thanks for using my links...I found out about the upguage to Q300s and ATRs on those routes by simply looking through the online schedules...however as you say there is no mention of the upguages "officially" by Air NZ or its subsidiaries. Likewise there was NO mention of Westport's adjustments by the airline. Air NZ had seemed content with regional services and the Beech 1900D up until the departure of Rob Fyfe. It seems, from sources I know to be reliable, that the new CEO has taken a look at the Beech 1900 and the routes it operates and doesn't like what he has seen. Of course if an airline loses interest in an aircraft then generally it will lose interest in the routes the aircraft operates too unless a business case can be made toward upguaging. Places like Whangarei, Gisborne, Kerikeri etc may be able to sustain the Q300 but Kaitaia, Westport etc would probably founder altogether with the 50 seater. But good observations - no communication from the airline anymore. It's time routes like AKL-KAT, WLG-WSZ, CHC-HKK etc were given over to 3rd level carriers with Air NZ codesharing. Perhaps FlyMySky or Soundsair would be good candidates. After all AKL-KAT was operated with an Islander during the 1980s by NAC. Such an arrangement though has always been unlikely in modern times as Air NZ doesn't like to share its turf with anyone and often lampoons any competition or undercuts it to a terminal point.

  3. correction on the Islander bit - 1970s by NAC is what I meant :)

  4. Given that Air New Zealand has invested considerable capital in an avionics upgrade and simulator for the Beech, it is unlikely they are going to pull the pin on them anytime soon.

    I doubt Air New Zealand would want anything to do with an outfit like FlyMySky.

    30 year old, piston powered piles of junk?...........I don't think so.

  5. I know that NZ are downgrading the 1900D fleet down to 12, plus two spares. I think it is so sad that regions like Buller, Wairarapa and Whanganui are losing air services. Its make me shudder to think what the regional aviation scene will be like in 5 years. Will we still have Timaru? Kaitaia? Westport? And if we still have them, frequency? Patronage on the regional routes is not a issue! People do take advantage of direct flights to the cities, even if they do a pay a bit more.

    People are not as willing as they once were to fly old Piston Aircraft frequently. Generally fares are a darn sight more on these little airlines than NZ. I still maintain, always have, that Air NZ need a 30 seater (or so) aircraft to fill the gaps. Routes like AKL-WAG, possibly WLG-TIU and certain CHC-HKK flights could step up to a 30 seater aircraft, but not quite a 50 seater Q300.

    Time will tell, but AIR NZ- get you act together

  6. Case in point for subsidized regional air services is the hiring of Cape Air in the USA to fly from St Louis to Kirksville, a flight I have done myself. This is part of the essential air services programme and my plane was a 30 year old Cessna 402 with just myself and one other pax aboard for the one hour flight out of Kirksville, Missouri. Perhaps places like KAT/WSZ/OAM/MRO could look toward a similar arrangement with the government here...on the other hand we don't have the population of the USA. In fact google the Essential Air Service programme and you'll find a host of routes flown by ancient piston powered planes.

  7. Interesting to note that only three airlines have a large Beech 1900D fleet left in the world - Air NZ, Air Canada (through Air Georgian) and Great Lakes Airlines in the USA. Great Lakes are slowly scrapping routes altogether if they can't get government funding for them and Air Canada is pressure by the Canadian government to serve a lot of smaller towns. The 19 seater's days for a profitable, modern and sizable airline are long over.