Hawke's Bay residents are driving to bigger city centres to catch flights rather than pay hundreds of dollars more to fly out of the regional airport in Napier.
People are willing to put up with the inconvenience of driving to Wellington, Auckland or Rotorua to catch international and domestic flights because of Air New Zealand's monopoly over airfares out of Hawke's Bay and a lack of competition to bring prices down.
Hawke's Bay Today reviewed Air New Zealand ticket prices yesterday, for a flight from Hawke's Bay to Christchurch for today, which cost $239 one way or $428 return the following week.
A ticket from Wellington to Christchurch was cheaper, at $59 one way, or $128 return, a saving of $300 and well below the cost of petrol to drive to and from the capital.
Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule said he had also heard people were driving out of the region to fly from airports where competitors to Air New Zealand offered lower airfares.
"I was speaking at a conference in Queenstown recently and it was going to cost $472 on Air New Zealand to get back to Hawke's Bay.
"The travel agent said if I went on Jetstar, I could go up to Auckland and back down to Hawke's Bay for $220."
Hawke's Bay's situation was similar to one reported in Southland, where flying out of Invercargill was so expensive people were driving two hours to catch cheaper flights from Queenstown.
"Queenstown has competition and Hawke's Bay does not. The critical thing is to get enough passenger traffic in to get another carrier interested in flying out of the region," Mr Yule said.
Air New Zealand's decision to cut the $69 stand by ticket offer on May 6 would further disadvantage Hawke's Bay quest for a new air carrier.
"What that (stand by ticket) did was dramatically increase passengers. I understand Air New Zealand's going to introduce more Grabaseat fares but really they are few and far between, and sometimes not offered on the days people really want to travel."
People used to drive to Palmerston North to catch international flights but jets no longer operated from the centre. Rotorua operated two international flights a week and was Hawke's Bay's closest international airport.
Hastings district councillor Sky high fares at airport
Simon Nixon said he did not believe the Hawke's Bay Airport board was making enough progress to sign up a competitor carrier.
"I think we need to change the board. In my opinion there isn't anyone on the board who has a solid aviation background."
Mr Nixon said Hawke's Bay passenger numbers declined slightly between the June 2008 year and June 1012 year from 449,126 to 444,708.
"In that time Dunedin domestic numbers increased by 23.8 per cent, Queenstown by 18.9 per cent and Auckland by 7.7 per cent."
Mr Yule did not agree and said the board had begun a new round of negotiations with Jetstar to bring the Aussie carrier to the Bay.
Hawke's Bay Tourism general manager Annie Dundas said airports around New Zealand well served by airlines in terms of frequency and competition would inspire "better deals for consumers".
"This doesn't help regional New Zealand as there is no competition and demand for our regions is not as high as the main centres.
"Consumers have to be even more savvy about seeking deals but in saying that booking last minute no matter where you live will mean you will pay a higher price."
She believed direct air services from Australia required further analysis by the airport board.
"It would be a huge investment in infrastructure and I would hope any analysis includes an annual budget for marketing such a service to Australians in Australia.
"Again frequency of service is all important. Rotorua is operating one or two flights a week to Australia, when Auckland is operating multiple flights everyday to Australia, as a consumer you will choose."
Air New Zealand said it would comment on the issue today.
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