Smaller airlines are in the wings ready to swoop if Air New Zealand ditches more regional routes, and the national carrier is getting the hard word to help third tier operators that step up when it bows out.
Chathams Air has already expressed an interest in taking over the Kapiti to Auckland service from Air New Zealand which ended on Tuesday.
Sounds Air and Barrier Air both are eager to expand further but were tight lipped about the destinations they were eyeing up.
Having already taken on services between Wellington, Westport and Taupo, and between Blenheim and Christchurch, Sounds Air chief executive Andrew Crawford said they were looking at what other routes Air New Zealand could pull out of.
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“We’re not looking to compete head to head with Air New Zealand or Jet Star, we just haven’t got the ability.”
After a bumpy start Barrier Air cut back from three return flights a day between Kaitaia and Auckland to just one, but chief executive Nick Pearson said business was building and the airline wanted to expand into other regional areas.
“We’ve learned some lessons from Kaitaia and we’re very excited if the right thing comes up”.
Aviation consultant Irene King believes Air New Zealand may reconsider its Auckland Whangarei service during the day, and said it could opt to pull out altogether.
The service has been the focus of complaints about flight cancellations, particularly on Friday nights, and King said the larger airline also faced constraints on loadings during certain weather conditions.
“It’s about the economics of smaller airlines carrying less overheads, they have older aircraft which are not as fuel efficient, but on the other hand, they don’t have the high capital costs associated with them.”
Third tier operators were also eager to get an interline agreement with Air New Zealand so passengers could check their bags all the way through if they were catching connecting flights.
An earlier Sounds Air request for an interline deal was turned down but Crawford said they had not given up on the idea.
“Two or three years ago, yes the technology wasn’t there, whereas we’ve certainly got it now.”
Buller District mayor Garry Howard said he was very happy with Sounds Air’s service between Westport and Wellington.
It ran at much more convenient times compared with the previous Air New Zealand timetable which meant passengers had to spend two nights away to get a full day in the capital.
“It turned a one day event into a three day episode. Now I can leave at 6.15am and I’m in Wellington at 7am … I can attend anything I like and be back for tea that night.”
However, he said the lack of an interline agreement was inconvenient and Air NZ would gain a competitive advantage by making it easier for passengers to check their bags through,
“Air New Zealand has lost its status as our national carrier because it’s not a provincial service provider, it has decided to it’s a volume provider out of the cities and I personally believe they will regret this.”
Sounds Air’s service between Wellington and Taupo, which it took over from Air New Zealand, is so popular Taupo maor David Trewavas said they might need to look at increasing the service or using a larger aircraft than the 9 seat Pilatus PC12.
“It goes higher and faster than Air New Zealand. It’s just like a corporate jet, 40 minutes and we’re in Wellington.”
But he agreed with Howard that the inability to use Koru lounges or to check luggage through was an inconvenience customers could do without.
Air New Zealand said it did not have any interline agreements in place with domestic carriers.
Such agreements tended to be between large international long haul carriers that were able to easily meet the significant requirements including, for example, having compatible booking systems, said the airline.