New airline happy with way service is tracking

By John Maslin

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Air Chathams says two weeks into its new Whanganui-Auckland air service and things are panning out as they expected.

The privately-owned airline stepped in to fill the breach when Air New Zealand announced it would be quitting the service on July 31. Air Chathams services kicked in from Monday, August 1.

Duane Emeny, the company's airline and charter general manager, told the Chronicle that overall "things are going great" and integrating the 34-seater Saabv aircraft onto the week-day service was going well.

"Obviously you're going to have teething problems when you bring in a new aircraft but we've been really impressed with the way the crew have handle things," Mr Emeny said.

He said the company's arrival in Whanganui had been made easier by the fact the ground agents at the city airport were from the same company working the Whakatane airport.

"It meant they were used to our systems and how we operated," he said.

Mr Emeny said the first nine days of the daily Whanganui-Auckland service had been "a mixed bag" in terms of passenger numbers.

"In the weeks leading up to our taking over the route it's fair to say we were a little depressed when looking at the numbers. But we made the decision to push out some really cheap promotional fares all the same.

"We've had a large number of sales of those special fares (one-way tickets for as little as $59) which means we're effectively losing money to make it work. But we wanted to make sure people were aware of the flights and the service we were bringing to Whanganui."

However, Mr Emeny said they had noticed some positive trends. Tuesdays and Wednesdays had been light in terms of numbers but then passenger loadings climbed towards the week's end and into the weekend.

"We're talking loadings on each flight of 85-95 per cent plus which is great.

"The first flight out and the last home in the evening are generally carrying the peak loads but we're noticing the 10.30am and 3.15pm flights are proving popular as well.

"But really things are panning out as we expected them to. We budgeted for a reasonable loss initially but this gives us time to see what schedules are popular and what people expect from our airline. Then we can look at our planning ahead and what resources we need to have in play, whether that be having the Saab running on certain routes or putting the 19-seater Metroliner on.

"It's just that you have to be smart about things," Mr Emeny said.

He said marketing the service was always going to be major hurdle.

"We don't have agreement like Air New Zealand has with overseas markets which means people flying with them will be directed to carry on flying with them to their nearest destination once they arrive in NZ. And remember they're not flying into Whanganui so it's word of mouth that's going to do it for us at this stage at least," he said.

Mr Emeny said Air Chathams was talking with Air New Zealand and had good lines of communication with them.

"We want to work with them where we can. We understand they have their business policies but hopefully one day we'll be working much more closely with them."

He said among those topics up for discussion is Air Chathams passengers being able to access the Air New Zealand Koru lounges.

He said the cheap fares would continue and although the airline was losing revenue doing it, it remained a major drawcard and method of promoting their services.

Meanwhile Whanganui MP Chester Borrows said the arrival of the Saab on the route was going to be "very good" for the city and district.

But Mr Borrows said it was important now that the locals get in and support the new airline so it remains a viable service.

"What we don't want now is for people to continue to do what they started doing which was moving across to Palmerston North and flying out of there."

He said it was vital the Air Chathams schedules were supported to maintain a service flying in and out of Whanganu.

"We need to get behind it and make sure we support it," he said.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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