Barrier Air has told Far North Holdings and the Far North District Council that it intends to withdraw its daily service between Kaitaia and Auckland at the end of January, unless it can boost passenger numbers.
The airline launched the service in April, budgeting on filling at least half the seats on each flight. It has not been meeting that target, chief executive Michael Foster saying it was losing a substantial amount of money every month, and could not afford to do so for much longer. He was prepared to hold on a little longer to see if the situation changed with the onset of the summer tourism season, however.
"We're hoping there will be a boost to traffic with people travelling to visit friends and family, and with a greater number of tourists flying into the region," Mr Foster said.
The airline would also introduce its new Cessna Caravan, a more spacious, newer and economical aircraft than the Piper Chieftain it had been using to date. And it would introduce flexible fares and a range of special and discounted ticket prices.
"We've heard those people who have said that our fares are too expensive. But the truth of the matter is that we set them at the lowest possible point we could, on the basis that we would be operating at about 50 per cent over winter and spring," Mr Foster said.
"Now that we're entering summer, we want to see if we can grow the Kaitaia to Auckland service to reasonable levels. And if we can't I'm afraid we're just going to have to pull the pin."
The company has worked closely with the Far North District Council's commercial arm and Kaitaia airport operator Far North Holdings to drum up business since it began operating. Far North Holdings funded a 'Use it or Lose it' advertising campaign over winter, and Mayor John Carter has repeatedly called for people to support the service.
"All of us at council are deeply concerned about this threat to the service," Mr Carter said.
"As I have said on many occasions, the very Far North desperately needs a regular commuter air service between Kaitaia and Auckland, for a host of reasons."
The council and FNHL would continue to work with and to support Barrier Air to the very best of their ability, "but at the end of the day they're not a charity, and if the route is not commercially viable then we understand and we will have to roll with that punch," he said.
Barrier Air will continue to operate medical flights between Whangarei and Kaitaia as part of a commercial arrangement it has with the Northland DHB.
Barrier Air has introduced new flexible fares (go to www.barrierair.kiwi). Non-flexible tickets bought two weeks before travel are now $99 each way, partially-flexible fares $179 each way, and $30 to change, while fully-flexible tickets cost $199.
All tickets purchased, whether flexible or non-flexible, will be fully refunded if the service ceases.