Air New Zealand is living up to its promise of heavily reduced air fares coinciding with the arrival of new planes on its daily Whanganui-to-Auckland service.
The airline confirmed yesterday that from February 9 the 19-seat Beechcraft 1900D aircraft which have serviced the route for years will be replaced by the larger 50-seat Bombardier Q300 planes.
The Bombardiers first appeared on the Whanganui route last April but the smaller Beech aircraft have continued to dominate the service. That all changes in about three weeks when the 50-seater two-turboprop aircraft will be the only Air New Zealand plane flying our skies.
More importantly for commuters is the new pricing regime that will be introduced.
A check with the airline timetable showed the cheapest fare from the River City to Auckland on February 11 is $55. That allows passengers a carry-on bag weighing no more than 7kg. The Flexiplus fare is the dearest but even then it will cost just $101 on the 6.55am flight. If you wanted a Flexiplus fare this Thursday it would cost an eye-watering $339, one way. A return ticket on the last flight (at 6.35pm) that day will cost the same.
On March 24 a return fare would cost $79 each way, assuming you leave on the 6.55am and come back on the evening flight.
An airline spokesperson said the switch to the Q300s across its entire regional service would be completed by August this year.
The Beechcraft are operated by Eagle Air as Air New Zealand Link. After the Whanganui change, the 19-seater planes will be withdrawn from the Wellington-Timaru and Wellington-Hamilton services on March 27 and 28 respectively. Other changes will follow on the Wellington-Blenheim route (April), Christchurch-Blenheim (May) and Christchurch-Hokitika (July).
The withdrawal will be completed on August 26, when the Beechcraft are last used on the Wellington-Gisborne and Wellington-Palmerston North services.
The airline said increasing domestic capacity in the Bombardiers would result in more low fares.
In the last financial year, Air New Zealand offered 1.8 million fares under $100 across its domestic network, including the regional routes which included Whanganui.
"In the 2016 financial year we will offer more than two million fares under $100 domestically," the spokesperson said.
While the bigger planes means a 75 per cent increase in seats compared with the Beechcraft, it will also mean a cut in the number of flights.
Air New Zealand currently operates four return trips every weekday between Wanganui and Auckland, with three return trips on a Saturday and four on a Sunday. From Wednesday, February 3, there will be three return services between the two ports on weekdays.
Then from Saturday, February 13, there will be two outward flights and one return flight to Whanganui. Then from February 14, there will be one outward flight and two return flights to Whanganui.
Last year Christopher Luxon, Air New Zealand's chief executive, told the Chronicle that, with the bigger planes, the airline expected to be able to reduce the average airfare by 15 per cent because of the better economies of scale.