The Government is being asked to help aviation tourism businesses from suffering a "fatal blow" to ensure they can maintain their experienced staff for safety reasons.

Rotorua's Volcanic Air director and chief pilot Tim Barrow said with experience came safety and it was imperative they kept their key staff working before the borders opened again to international visitors.

Barrow addressed Parliament's Epidemic Response Committee today as part of a panel of invited guests from the tourism and hospitality sectors. Rotorua publican Reg Hennessy also spoke.

The committee of MPs is an inquiry into the Government's response to the Covid-19 pandemic and is chaired by National Party leader Simon Bridges.

Epidemic Response Committee - 20 May

#LIVE: Epidemic Response Committee - 20 May

Posted by New Zealand National Party on Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Volcanic Air and Barrow made headlines at the end of last year after he and six other private helicopter staff made the heroic decision to fly to White Island moments after the deadly eruption to rescue the injured.

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His actions were acknowledged during this morning's meeting by committee member and Waiariki MP Tāmati Coffey.

Barrow told the committee Volcanic Air operated a mixed fleet of helicopters and float planes across the Central North Island and 88 per cent of its visitors were international, contributing 96 per cent of their income. He said Australian visitors were about 20 per cent.

He said he was part of the General Aviation Tourism Group which represented nearly 250 aircraft employing more than 700 people.

"These companies provide access to the remote iconic locations which have been used for decades as the shop window to promote New Zealand as a unique and special destination."

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He said although the wage subsidy had been great, it could be months before they operated again because most of the market were international visitors who were time poor but cash rich.

"I ask that international tourism not be written out of our future."

He said hibernating the industry wasn't an option as skills and aircraft needed to be maintained to keep up with Civil Aviation Authority standards and maintain their Air Operators Certificates.

He said it was an expensive process but without those staff they wouldn't be able to keep their certificates.

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"That would be a fatal blow many won't recover from. The potential loss of experience we are facing could be catastrophic. In aviation experience is vital. Without it, safety is unquestionably compromised."

He asked the Government for help maintaining certification and keeping vital experience in the industry.

Hospitality Association Bay of Plenty branch president and Hennessy's Irish Bar owner Reg Hennessy. Photo / Andrew Warner
Hospitality Association Bay of Plenty branch president and Hennessy's Irish Bar owner Reg Hennessy. Photo / Andrew Warner

Hennessy, who is the Hospitality Association Bay of Plenty branch president and Hennessy's Irish Bar owner, addressed the committee for the second time in three weeks.

Hennessy said the Budget came and went with "hardly a whimper" for the hospitality industry and other small or medium businesses.

"For weeks we were being told to wait for the Budget and we did. What a waste of time."

Hennessy said the wage subsidy did nothing to help them remain afloat while they had little or no income.

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He spelled out what the industry needed from the Government. This included getting certainty around commercial rents, a cash injection to help pay all the costs caused by the lockdown and getting local councils to waive fees on outdoor dining and the granting of on and off liquor licences.

He also asked the Government to support councils with rates relief schemes, urgently protect tenants against lease cancellations and debt recovery by commercial landlords for a period of six months, address the excise on alcohol – which he said went up during the lockdown period - and offer training grants for the industry to attract and retain employees.

Hennessy's Irish Bar reopens tomorrow and Hennessy said they hoped the "tap" would turn back on, but the reality was he and everyone else would be doing it hard.

"The last 58 days have been very challenging – hard decisions have needed to be made. Both my partner Sue and I have been tested particularly mentally through worry and concern for our businesss, our family and our wonderful staff."

He said he was looking for a plan from the Government and some consistency in the rules.

"A lot of the pubs have gaming machines but we weren't allowed to use them. The TAB was allowed to turn them on last week."

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Coffey acknowledged Hennessy for making the comment that he had been tested mentally.

"We all have, not least our Prime Minister, who has had to make that decision, big bold decisions, based on the country's best interests."

Coffey said he wondered if Hennessy was being "selective" about saying there was a lack of help because he was choosing not to take up the Government's loans offers. He asked Hennessy if he was asking the Government to foot the bill for everything.

Hennessy replied no. He said he was looking for certainty around commercial rents and to get councils to be more generous.

Coffey pointed out that once bars opened again they would make some income yet, if they fell under the 50 per cent loss threshold, would still qualify for the wage subsidy for another eight weeks from June 30. Therefore, Coffey said, those operating businesses would benefit directly by not having to pay staff.

Hennessy said the wage subsidy was a help, but it didn't come close to covering all the costs.

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When asked by Act leader David Seymour why he didn't just walk away, Hennessy said at 66 he was too old to retrain.

"It's a passion. It's what I'm built to do. I love it, I love my pub, I love my staff and I love Rotorua. No, we aren't going to walk away from it and I hope we can come out the other side."

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website