It has been confirmed today that Air Chathams will take over flights between Whakatane and Auckland.
Increased capacity, improved passenger comfort and a significant upgrade in freight capabilities are potential outcomes of the proposed new air service, to be introduced on the route when Air New Zealand withdraws its scheduled services at the end of April.
Whakatane mayor Tony Bonne said the proposal would see a locally-branded service provided by Air Chathams, utilising its fleet of 50-seat Convair 580 airliners and 19-seat Metroliner aircraft.
"I'm delighted to announce that a replacement service has been offered, which could provide significant potential for growth and a genuine opportunity for the Eastern Bay of Plenty to build a partnership with an airline which is committed to attractively-priced fares and developing travel, accommodation and activity packages which will boost the region's profile as a short-stay domestic tourism destination," he said.
The announcement followed an extraordinary council meeting today, which has confirmed Air Chathams as the preferred service provider for Whakatane-Auckland scheduled flights.
The council has also approved the extra funding required (subject to Ministry of Transport approval) for the expenditure needed to bring Whakatane Airport up to certification standard for use by the airline's larger aircraft.
Air Chathams managing director, Craig Emeny, said the company viewed the Whakatane to Auckland service as a great opportunity to expand upon its current scheduled services between the Chatham Islands and Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
"This route has enjoyed solid loadings for many years and, for the most part, the services which have been timed to meet business travellers' needs have been close to full," he said.
"We intend to offer two return services a day at times which will allow businesspeople to have a full day in the city, and because we can seat 50 people, we'll be able to more than double passenger numbers at those key service times. We're also looking forward to working closely with the council and the local tourism industry to create the sort of packages and publicity needed to put the 'sunshine capital' on the map for people looking for weekend escapes."
The airline's twin-engined, turboprop Convair 580 airliner is fully pressurised and passengers will appreciate its roomy cabin and cabin crew service. Air speed is comparable to the existing Beech 1900 service, so flight times will not change significantly. Air Chathams' Metroliner may also be used when passenger numbers are lower. The aircraft and its crew will be based at Whakatane Airport.
"We'd like to give the service a local flavour and branding," Mr Emeny said.
"Sunshine Airways and Eastern Bay Air are both possibilities, but we'd appreciate the community's feedback on those, or other suggestions which would capture the magic of the area."
Mr Bonne said the council would continue to work with the Government to ensure that the airport, which is a 50:50 joint-venture with the Ministry of Transport, remained a viable long-term operation.
"The airport plays a key role in the region's transport infrastructure, opening up access to the rest of the country for our 47,000 residents. It also makes an important contribution to our business sector and our economy and we look forward to seeing that grow over the coming years."
The Air Chathams service is expected to commence on April 29 and the airline intends to have a dedicated website and booking portal operating by the end of February.