27 May 2016

Hopes Air NZ will rethink Northland flights

10:05 am on 27 May 2016

Far North mayor John Carter is hopeful Air New Zealand will rethink its plan to cut early-morning flights out of Northland, he says.

Check-in for Air New Zealand flights

Check-in for Air New Zealand flights Photo: 123rf.com

The first flights of the day leave Whangarei and Kerikeri at 7am, but Air New Zealand is planning to change the departure times from November to 8am for Whangarei and 9am for Kerikeri.

Far North District Council Mayor John Carter

Far North District Council Mayor John Carter. Photo: Supplied

Business people have protested that the new schedule would increase their costs and make it harder to get to Auckland or Wellington for meetings.

Kerikeri Business Association president Jason Voakes said the early flights were well patronised and the change made no sense.

"This place is booming at the moment," he said.

"We've got house prices going up, Aucklanders moving up not just to retire but to carry on working, and the transport links back to Auckland for social and business purposes are critical."

Mr Voakes said that as an insurance adviser with other business interests involving Northland suppliers he often took the early flight to Auckland and returned at night.

But if the flight left at 8am, he would not make it to meetings on time and people heading for Wellington would be even more disadvantaged.

"You'd have to go down the day before if you've got to do a full day," he said.

"And possibly spend another night down there - so a trip that would have cost $300 or $400 if you booked ahead, costing $1000 including accommodation. Not to mention the inconvenience and time away from your business."

Whangarei National MP Shane Reti was involved in the talks with Air NZ and would not comment.

But in a recent video appeal on his Facebook page Dr Reti said the early flights out of Whangarei were essential and 75 percent of travellers he surveyed one morning this month were flying for business reasons.

Green MP David Clendon, who lives in Kerikeri, said Air NZ had spoken only in general terms about the schedule changes and had argued that it was not a reduction in service.

"But I really don't think that argument is tenable. One would assume it's to do with costs or so-called efficiencies.

"But certainly if any cost savings are being made, that is at the expense of service levels to people in Northland," Mr Clendon said.

RNZ News understands there would be cost savings to Air NZ from scrapping the early flights because the planes and their crews would no longer have to stay in the region overnight.

Air NZ ceased flying to Kaitaia last year and David Clendon said the airline's latest plans were symptomatic of the slow erosion of its service in the region.

"That's got an economic impact as well as a social one, and it's important they rethink it, " he said.

"Air NZ after all is 51 percent government-owned and if the government is serious about seeing the Northland economy develop, then looking at transport services generally, and in this instance air services, is something they need to think a bit harder about."

Mr Carter said the new flight schedule was causing significant concern in the community and the region's mayors and other leaders had conveyed that to the national airline.

"I've got to say that the discussions have been positive," he said.

"Everything's not set in concrete and I'm hopeful and feeling a little confident that we're going to make good progress and things will turn out in the way that we need them to. "

Air NZ has declined to spell out exactly why it wants to scrap the early flights from Northland but said the changes were part of wider adjustments across its regional network.

It says it continually reviews its network schedule to match seat capacity with demand.