Axed Air NZ service a bitter blow

By Kieran McAnulty

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The Eagle has landed (this time) - An Air New Zealand Eagle Air flight touches down at Onerahi airport NAO 04Jul13 - AIR BRAKES: Passengers expecting to fly into Whangarei on Eagle Air's Beech 19
The Eagle has landed (this time) - An Air New Zealand Eagle Air flight touches down at Onerahi airport NAO 04Jul13 - AIR BRAKES: Passengers expecting to fly into Whangarei on Eagle Air's Beech 19

WHEN elected, this Government pledged to run New Zealand like "you may run your business."

What the Government failed to acknowledge is that in business, there may well be winners, but there are often many losers. Regrettably, last week, Wairarapa became one of those losers.

The news that Air New Zealand is due to scrap the Masterton to Auckland route is devastating for Wairarapa. Many local businesses depend on the regular service, especially tourism. Tourists want convenience. The Masterton to Auckland route provided that. As a result of this announcement, an hour's drive after a flight into Wellington or Palmerston North is the only game in town. A direct flight into Marlborough or Nelson suddenly appears more attractive.

Our National MP stated he was "saddened and surprised" at the news. He may well be saddened, but he should not be surprised. This announcement has everything to do with his Government's asset sales policies.

Air NZ is over 70 per cent Government owned. If the Government were genuinely serious about providing regular air links to the provinces they would instruct Air New Zealand to do so. In fact, they would expand the service to include the South Island. They would promote the service - use it to encourage large employers to move into provincial areas like Wairarapa. With a regular transport system and reliable communication technology, there is no reason why this cannot occur. Unfortunately, this Government doesn't think like that. It prefers to concentrate on the bottom line.

Only a few weeks ago, Air New Zealand declared the Masterton to Auckland route a profitable venture. Since commencing the service they have averaged over 70 per cent capacity. So what went wrong?

The Government wants to reduce its stake in Air New Zealand down to only 51 per cent. It wants to ignore the potential growth opportunities Air New Zealand can provide the provinces and look toward the short-term cash injection privatisation brings.

In order to prevent repeating the disastrous Mighty River Power float, it is entirely in the Government's interest to make Air New Zealand appear as profitable as possible. Unfortunately for the people of Wairarapa, such services may be profitable, but not enough to appear attractive to potential investors. It is therefore in the Government's interest to scrap all low-profit services to increase total margin.

After all, when looking to sell a business it is the bottom line that matters most.

Time and time again, this Government proclaims the importance of regions like Wairarapa to the national economy. Only last month the Prime Minister told a group of young professionals in Masterton that in order to keep our talent in Wairarapa, assets like the aerodrome must be maintained. He told us that regional development is a key component of his Government's policy platform. That is simply lip service.

The Government needs to forget about its purely business-like approach and instead concentrate on the service Air New Zealand is providing to Wairarapa.

Wairarapa needs a Government that sees beyond profit and looks to provide an environment that encourages regional development. It needs a Government that understands a marginal profit is still a profit and providing an essential service is just as important.

It is disingenuous of this Government and our National MP to advocate a privatisation agenda that has directly affected the potential growth of Wairarapa, then lament the loss of the Air NZ service once it goes. It's simply crocodile tears - they can't have it both ways.

- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE

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