Whanganui's new air service has announced discounted fares throughout the first month of its operation in a bid to attract passengers.
Air Chathams general manager Duane Emeny broke the news in the city on Wednesday to a Whanganui business audience.
Mr Emeny said no ticket prices would be more than $200. Given Air Chathams' refundable premium ticket for a one-way Whanganui-Auckland trip is $344, it represents a significant saving.
And he said there were other options frequent flyers could buy into once the privately-owned airline takes over the route from Air New Zealand on August 1.
The multi-pass ticket virtually cuts fare prices in half and again was fully refundable and flexible. Someone buying a 10 ticket block would get the fully refundable tickets for $170.
"And when your ticket balance gets a bit low you can simply top it up online through our website."
He said the company was talking with Air New Zealand about keeping people involved in that national carrier's frequent flyer services, especially the Koru Club membership. And the freight service side of the business was something they would also be pushing. There will be an express freight service charging $2 per kg with a minimum of 15kg.
He said Air New Zealand's decisions to quit the Whanganui route was a commercial one and no doubt made on a reasonable basis.
"But for a company like ours this offers a very big opportunity. We had a big operation in
Tonga for five years but the political landscape changed there and the decision was made to come back to consolidate in NZ.
"We effectively retrenched in Auckland and then started to grow. We were investigating a number of routes and then when Air New Zealand made its decision about Westport,
Kaitaia and Whakatane, we put in bids to service all three.
"We were as surprised as anyone when the decision was made about Whanganui. It's a larger region and has had an air service for so long. So with that background we see this area as a great opportunity," he said.
Mr Emeny said Air Chathams was "really comfortable" with the market they saw here.
"It was made easier by what's happened, as far as our service through Whakatane has shown us. Rotorua and Tauranga are close by, just as Palmerston North is not far away from you. So Whanganui has the same challenges.
"But we've been able to go in there and say we're an airline keen to support the community and develop a service around that. It started like that for us in the Chatham Islands a long time ago, and it worked for us."
He said they were looking forward to working with Whanganui, "understanding what you need". "Whanganui's been named one of the country's top 10 tourist destinations, so there's definitely potential here."
He said the schedule from August 1 mirrored the current Air New Zealand service for obvious reasons.
"But the thing is we're a small airline, so change is not hard for us to make to suit what your market needs," Mr Emeny said
And there's a chance the airline will decorate the Whanganui plane along similar lines to that flying to Whakatane.
"It was a joint venture with their district council. When we first started that run the aircraft was just painted white and some people said it looked a bit boring.
"We had regular meetings with the mayor and council and I floated the idea of a flying billboard. What it does is sell Whakatane as a beautiful destination, and it's flying in and out of Auckland, the country's biggest airport," he said.
"Once we meet everyone and get to know who to talk to here, we'll get involved in the same thing here. I think it would be neat. There are some key features of Whanganui that we could display on that plane."
FLIGHT OPTIONS: Air Chathams chief executive Craig Emeny said the company was looking forward to being involved with the Whanganui market. PHOTO/ STUART MUNRO