Weekly column from Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan

I remember clearly the sense of betrayal felt by the Kāpiti community when Air Zealand pulled their services unceremoniously out of Kapiti Coast Airport in 2018.

This was just a week after a highly successful joint KCDC/Air NZ promotion of the Kāpiti to Auckland link.

Amid the rancour, work started in earnest to secure a replacement.

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Council worked with the Chamber of Commerce, Ōtaki MP Nathan Guy, and especially with Minister Kris Faafoi to finally secure Air Chathams.

The family run operators took a huge risk.

But, backed by its operations in Whakatāne, Whanganui and Chatham Islands and support from council it was able to launch its inaugural flight in August 2018.

Since then, the father and son team Greg and Duane Emeny have endeared the airlines to Kāpiti communities.

The family business, established in 1984, has supported a range of community and charitable organisations.

Compared to the sterile corporate culture of Air NZ, Air Chathams has been a better fit for Kāpiti.

They have provided a convenient Auckland connection for businesses, families and the tourism sector.

They were in the midst of a interline deal with Air NZ to help Kāpiti clients catching international flights out of Auckland when Covid-19 struck.

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As with other airlines, the lockdown cut off the financial oxygen on the income side while the operational costs continued to bleed the company.

In 2018, backed by their business in Whakatāne, Whanganui and Chatham Islands, it was able to expand into the Kāpiti space abandoned by ANZ.

The Covid-19 impact, however, has been different, it has had to restart operations simultaneously at all its airports.

The company will restart Kāpiti flights to Auckland on May 24 and it needs our Kāpiti communities to support it.

The airline has proven itself as a successful regional air service supplier, coming to the rescue of provincial communities like Whakatāne, Whanganui and Kāpiti which were abandoned by Air NZ.

This transport resilience is important to New Zealand if the Government is serious about regional economic development.

Council is working with Whakatāne and Whanganui to put a case for central government support for Air Chathams.

Let's get behind Air Chathams.

In a related matter, there has been some agitation over the decision by Airways Corporation to withdraw its Air Flight Information Services (AFIS) from some airports.

This is also linked to staff cutbacks.

Obviously, unions representing these workers have argued about the impact on the reduction of safety at airports if the AFIS is removed.

But it has been pointed out that while control tower operations should not be removed from airports like Napier, Rotorua and Invercargill, Kāpiti's position is different.

The introduction of AFIS at Kapiti Coast Airport was mandated during the time of the then airport owner Sir Noel Robinson.

This was when the airport was busy with high frequency use by the likes of Helipro, Gliding Club, Aero Club, Air Training School and two airlines.

These are mostly all gone and, post-Covid, the frequency level is even less.

A second factor is that Airways Corporation charged like a wounded bull.

Its direct commercial charge to Kapiti Coast Airport was around $600K per year and the airport in turn passed it on to the operators.

The removal of the AFIS would be like a financial shot in the arm for Air Chathams.

A third factor is that operators using planes carrying 30 or less passengers can operate out of airports which do not have AFIS.

Air Chathams can operate such lower passenger load planes.

The ability of airports to continue to have sustainable airlines operating out of them is critical for the ability of airports to continue to exist.

Rapidly changing airplane and airfreight technology requires the future-proofing of this asset so we have land zoned for airport use available for the introduction of these innovations.