Airways' plans to close air traffic control operations in some centres is far from a done deal.
The state owned enterprise wants to shut down operations at Napier, Gisborne, New Plymouth, Rotorua and Invercargill Airports, and the flight information service at Kapiti Coast and Milford Sound airports as demand for travel has collapsed and its revenue plummeted.
Up to 40 jobs could be lost (out of a total of 180 Airways is targeting) but pilots and local authorities are pushing back against the plans on safety and economic grounds.
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Shane Jones, who is Regional Economic Development Minister as well as Associate SOE and Transport Minister, is aware of the concerns and says there is a case for having a closer look at plans for one tower in particular.
"I have been reassured that although they are downgrading their presence that will not prevent aircraft from using those airports," he said.
"I think in the case of Invercargill I am going to request more information. I think it could be a special case not only because it is an export rich area and anything that diminishes connectivity to the Far North or the deep south is something I would want to remedy."
Airways has forecast the nationwide network will only recover up to 60 per cent over the next two years with expectations that border restrictions would stay in place for some time.
Airways expects 180 staff to be made redundant as it cuts its cost base by 30 per cent.
Safety regulator the Civil Aviation Authority will need to approve the changes in the regions.
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It stresses that anything that could potentially impact on the safety of the civil aviation system is its key focus.
Deputy chief executive of aviation infrastructure and personnel Chris Ford said the Airways plans were something the CAA would need to consider "very carefully", before any decision could be made.
The obligation to ensure the delivery of airport air traffic services when these are necessary in the interests of safety, sits with individual airports. They then engage with Airways to ensure this is the case.
"Before the CAA could consider any proposals for change it, as the regulator, needs to be provided with a safety case by each airport in question," said Ford.
The proposals needed to incorporate consultative input from airport stakeholders, including airlines and pilots.
"Upon receiving a safety case the CAA would also enter into an independent consultative process with stakeholders before any final safety decision-making takes place."
Air New Zealand has expressed its support for the move given its much restricted domestic schedule.
"We are supportive of measures to help rebuild the aviation sector long-term and welcome Airways' review of the affordability of its services," said the airline whose revenue has crumbled and is now laying off staff.
The airline said it was well versed in safe flying procedures to uncontrolled aerodromes with operations to five regional ports (Taupo, Timaru, Whangarei, Hokitika and Kerikeri) already managed without control tower support.
However, airports and pilots are aghast at the proposals and they are facing objections from local politicians including Rotorua's mayor Steve Chadwick.
She says the airport was crucial to Rotorua's economic recovery and that would now be in jeopardy if the plans to withdraw from the towers went ahead.
NZ Airports chief executive Kevin Ward last month said while he could appreciate changes would be needed good risk assessment processes must apply before any are made.
"Airways tower staff are also part of safety management around each airport, and their withdrawal would pose several significant challenges. What might be safe now, in a highly unusual situation, won't be a sustainable solution when travel restrictions are lifted."
When the proposal was announced the NZ Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) said safety could be compromised and it says this is still the case. In a letter to Airways this week its president Andrew Ridling called for more consultation not only on staff layoffs but also on the safety case.
He said there was a risk of the tower closures becoming a fait accompli.
"This conclusion is currently being drawn through both a lack of information to key sector
stakeholders such as ourselves, and there being a number of meetings we understand are
occurring that do not represent fair consultation or collaboration across affected parties."
An Airways spokeswoman said it had extended the formal consultation with staff by two weeks and expect to know the outcome of it by May 14.
"This would determine next steps. At the same time we're in discussions with the airports, airlines and CAA."
Ridling is also concerned about changes to the law passed under urgency last week which allow SOEs an extension on reporting their statements of corporate intent.
As part of an omnibus Covid-19 Response (Taxation and Other Regulatory Urgent Measures) Bill Airways gets up to three months longer to present its plans which Ridling said provide crucial transparency for the industry, regional representatives and the travelling public, during an unprecedented time of aviation upheaval.
Airways received a $70 million equity injection from the Government's $600m aviation package which included an estimated $37m assistance to the airlines which was intended to cover its fees.
But, based on further reductions in flight volumes, Airways says it unlikely to see much of the $37m.
The SOE is also applying for $5m from the Government's wage subsidy.