A small Kiwi-owned airline has flown to the rescue of Kaitaia travellers facing the prospect of losing their air link to Auckland.
Late last year Air New Zealand announced it was pulling out of Kaitaia and other provincial centres this April because the routes were losing money.
The news shocked the Far North and was seen as a nail in Kaitaia's coffin. However, four smaller airlines put their hands up to offer a replacement service, and council-owned company Far North Holdings this week announced it had chosen Great Barrier Airlines.
Kaitaia's business and tourism communities are welcoming the news, particularly because the new service will offer three flights a day with the first departure at 7.30am. One of the gripes about Air NZ was its first flight left too late in the morning, forcing business people to fly from Kerikeri if they wanted a full day in Auckland.
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Great Barrier Airlines chief executive Mark Roberts said the company would start with a flat fare of $180 each way, rather than the complicated fare structure offered by Air NZ. Children aged 2-12 would pay $108 while infants would travel free.
The company was buying a 12-seater Cessna Grand Caravan from Australia for the Kaitaia route. A nine-seat Piper Chieftain would serve as back-up until a second Caravan arrived.
Mr Roberts believed the company could make a go of the route because it had lower overheads than Air NZ and its aircraft were less expensive to run. The company already flew four days a week between Whangarei and Kaitaia for the Northland District Health Board.
In the past it had also flown to the Haruru Falls airstrip near Paihia. "The North is part of the country we feel comfortable with," Mr Roberts said.
The company currently flew from Great Barrier to Whangarei, Auckland, North Shore, Whitianga and Tauranga with three nine-seater Piper Chieftains, a Partenavia and a Britten-Norman Islander. It also had several three-engined Trislanders.
Far North Holdings chief executive Andy Nock said Air NZ's announcement last year caused much concern so he was delighted Great Barrier Airlines had stepped forward to fill the gap. Mayor John Carter said daily flights between Kaitaia and Auckland were vital to the district's economic development. He urged Northlanders to support the new service.
*Weekday flights will leave Auckland for Kaitaia at 6am, 12.30pm and 5.30pm, and depart Kaitaia at 7.30am, 2pm and 7pm. Weekend flights will depart Auckland at 9.30am and 5pm, and Kaitaia at 11am and 6.30pm. Bookings will be available via www.greatbarrierairlines.co.nz