With Originair set to unlock another regional air travel route between Nelson, Palmerston North and Hamilton, a Hamilton city councillor is calling for more forms of alternative transport to fully unlock the Waikato region.
On Tuesday, Originair, which is owned and operated by Robert Inglis, founder of Air Nelson which was bought by Air New Zealand, announced that from Monday, October 19 Originair will offer direct weekday services between Palmerston North and Hamilton.
Hamilton city councillor Ewan Wilson is calling on more forms of alternative transport around the regions, including more rail and air travel options.
"There is no future thinking when it comes to building more roads, we must now look to other forms of connecting our communities, such as the Te Huia rail service, and now the announcement from Originair, it is all positive news for the Waikato," Wilson said.
"We're slowly making progress with the Hamilton metro spatial plan, so we are now looking at how can we connect Hamilton with its outlining communities. We are lucky we already have the rail infrastructure in place unlike Auckland so we could connect Hamilton CBD with the likes of Te Awamutu and Morrinsville."
KiwiRail is also undertaking preliminary discussions with local authorities along the main trunk line between Auckland and Wellington to see whether a regional rail service, offering more stops than the Northern Explorer, might be supported.
KiwiRail last week announced that The Northern Explorer and Coastal Pacific scenic trains will restart on September 30, and October 13.
"We're aware that many towns and regions would like to have a passenger train serve their area and our initial engagement with stakeholders has been positive," KiwiRail group chief executive Greg Miller said.
"We also know that New Zealanders are increasingly interested in reducing their carbon footprint when they travel, and rail offers that opportunity.
"We'll work with local councils to come up with a proposition that offers more New Zealanders the chance to choose rail to get around the country.
"There is enthusiasm for the coming Hamilton-Auckland passenger rail service and KiwiRail is keen to partner with others to explore further opportunities."
Wilson said it was a smart move by Originair to provide a service that Air New Zealand was no longer running.
"We are now connecting some of New Zealand's regional towns and cities such as Nelson and Hamilton and bypassing the need to stop at the likes of Wellington."
The new Palmerston North–Hamilton services will depart Palmerston North for Hamilton at 10.50am and depart Hamilton for Palmerston North at 1pm, Monday to Friday. This is an extension of the service Originair has operated from Nelson–Palmerston North since 2014.
Simultaneously, Originair is increasing its Nelson–Palmerston North services from eight to 14 flights per week. This increases its schedule to daily return services Monday to Thursday, and on Sunday. There will be two return services on Friday.
"Demand for our services on the Nelson–Palmerston North route has grown and we hope that this extra scheduled frequency will be helpful for travellers accessing the central North Island and for North Island travellers visiting the top of the South," said Originair CEO Robert Inglis.
"After services between Hamilton and Palmerston North ceased earlier in the year, we were asked to consider extending our services to introduce direct weekday flights on this route. We are very aware that many business travellers would like a double daily peak-time service and our intention is to increase our schedule in early 2021 to accommodate that demand.
"This represents a cautious start on the Hamilton–Palmerston North route in line with the challenging times. Initially, we will service this schedule with a British Aerospace 19-seat Jetstream aircraft but we may increase the aircraft gauge to accommodate demand."
In order to ensure Originair's capacity to operate the additional flights the company has imported a further British Aerospace Jetstream 32EP from Iceland to add to its fleet.
"This aircraft is currently being prepared for CAA inspection and entry to service on the New Zealand register," says Inglis. "This was the last serial number of the J32 series to be built and I believe it is a very good example of the 19-seat type. We look forward to seeing it landing at airports in the Originair livery soon."
The announcement has been welcomed by Hamilton Airport.
"Both the Hamilton and Palmerston North airport companies are committed to supporting business and regional recovery, and the re-establishment of the Hamilton–Palmerston North service will help facilitate that," says Hamilton Airport CEO Mark Morgan.