Airport eyes Rotorua-Queenstown direct flights

By Abigail Hartevelt

Rotorua International Airport may lobby Air New Zealand for direct flights between Rotorua and Queenstown.
The airline won't be drawn on whether such a service would be viable but tourism leaders say it could be a short-term fix to counter tourist cancellations resulting from the disasters in Christchurch and Japan.
Airport manager George White said the Christchurch earthquake and tsunami in Japan were expected to have a negative impact on domestic flights.
Some international groups had delayed travelling to New Zealand because of the earthquake in Christchurch and the Japanese would not be travelling, he said.
Meanwhile, other people who used to travel between Rotorua and Christchurch for business and were unlikely to be doing so while the South Island city was being rebuilt.
There were three flights between Rotorua and Christchurch and Mr White said he feared Rotorua would miss out on tourists who were no longer flying to Christchurch and so not using the Christchurch-Rotorua connection.
"The last thing we want is Rotorua being dropped off an itinerary for inbound groups and planes flying over our heads [not stopping in Rotorua]."
Mr White said he was working on a business plan to present to Air New Zealand.
He said he expected to be ready to approach the airline in about three weeks "if it stacks up".
Agrodome director Warren Harford said Rotorua had never had a regular service between Rotorua and Queenstown. He was in favour of it but said it would need to include Christchurch as its airport would remain the gateway into the South Island.

Skyline Rotorua has had 800 cancellations as a result of the Christchurch earthquake and general manager Neville Nicholson said he would support a Rotorua to Queenstown flight.
With inbound groups cancelling entire New Zealand itineraries due to the quake, direct flights between Rotorua and Queenstown would provide a "short-term fix" for inbound tour operators and wholesalers, he said.
"That will give our operators something to get their heads around in respect of itineraries."
In the long term, Mr Nicholson said any service between Rotorua and Queenstown would need to include a Christchurch connection.
When approached by The Daily Post an Air New Zealand spokesman said only that Rotorua airport managers were welcome to approach the airline.
According to the airport's statement of intent, the number of domestic passengers is expected to total 227,578 for the year ending June 2012 and 265,204 in the year ending June 2014.
Mr White said before the recession, the airport was seeing more than 300,000 domestic passengers. "We are expecting that level of numbers to return to its previous high at some stage."

- Rotorua Daily Post

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