Fledgling carrier’s founder alleges bias in rejection of Whenuapai-Wellington proposal

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee has clipped the wings of a fledgling regional airline before it can get off the ground, rejecting plans to operate domestic flights from Whenuapai airbase, northwest of Auckland, to Wellington.

Kiwi Regional Airlines (KRA) chief executive Ewan Wilson has responded by accusing the Government of bias, questioning its role in who uses the military airbase given the government's major shareholding in competitor Air New Zealand.

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KRA is proposing domestic flights from the Whenuapai airbase to Wellington as investors look to capitalise on 450,000 residents who must drive up to an hour to Auckland Airport for domestic services.

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The airline yesterday released details of its intended routes, targeting some of the routes dumped by Air New Zealand late last year.

But in 2009 Cabinet knocked back a proposal for commercial flights at Whenuapai following concerns from residents about noise. Last night a spokesman for Mr Brownlee confirmed the Government had no plans to revisit the decision and Whenuapai should remain operating as a military airbase only.

Mr Wilson, the founder of the mid-1990s failed Kiwi Travel International Airlines, said he would not give up on the idea and would forge ahead with the airline and with trying to change the Cabinet stance.

The airline, backed by Sir George Seymour National College director Nicole Domett and used car dealer Eugene Williams of 2 Cheap Cars, was in the process of buying three aircraft for the new services with plans to launch at the end of the year at the earliest.

Two SAAB 34-seat planes would begin flights with a third to be added, but the Civil Aviation Authority must authorise an air operating certificate before KRA can launch.

The Royal New Zealand Airforce Base at Whenuapai, a 20-minute drive northwest of Auckland, was once a joint military-commercial airport for almost 20 years until 1965. It was an international gateway to New Zealand before Auckland International Airport was built at Mangere.

Similar joint facilities are already well-established in Blenheim according to Mr Wilson.

Mr Wilson, who was convicted on four counts of fraud following the collapse of Hamilton-based Kiwi Air in 1996, said the proposal was different to previous commercial activities rejected at Whenuapai. North Harbour Business Association general manager Janine Brinsdon said of the proposal that anything enabling businesses to be more efficient was a bonus. But Upper Harbour Local Board chairman Brian Neeson labelled Mr Wilson a "dreamer" and his idea "insane".

Rob O'Neil, defence editor for Pacific Wings, said Whenuapai was a busy military airbase that was already home to more than 1000 personnel along with Orion, Hercules and Boeing 757 aircraft.

Whenuapai stand-off

• Kiwi Regional Airlines is proposing domestic flights from Whenuapai airbase.

• Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee says the airbase will remain military only.

• In 2008 plans to move Whenuapai to Ohakea airbase were dropped when National came to power.