At least two smaller commercial passenger flyers are looking at expanding services in Hawke's Bay Airport following withdrawal announcements from Jetstar and small regional operator Sounds Air.
The interest by Air Napier and Tauranga-owned Sunair Aviation indicates a re-establishment of some provincial links such as those operated by the now long-gone Eagle Airways, with a nostalgic whiff of the NAC and SPANZ competition of the 1960s.
Air Napier changed hands last year and in February this year started a regular service between Napier and Gisborne, and but Sunair is not currently operating in the region. Although, it has previously done so.
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New Air Napier chief executive Shah Aslam said the six-days-a-week Gisborne schedule is well supported, and the company is now looking at the possibility of expanding that service and taking on new routes, which could lead to investing in more and possibly larger aircraft.
The biggest currently in the fleets is a seven-seater Piper Navajo, but Aslam said the expansion wouldn't take place without development of a longer-term strategy, something which he says Jetstar may have lacked in positioning itself with just five regional destinations, and the only Hawke's Bay flights being to and from Auckland.
Sunair, owned by Dan and Bev Power, entered the Hawke's Bay market with a newly-purchased Piper Aztec in 1999, and expanded the schedule to include Hamilton and New Plymouth.
The Napier link ended in 2015, after Air New Zealand secured bank data courier contracts previously held by smaller operators.
Sunair currently has passenger service links with Tauranga, Whangārei, Whitianga, Great Barrier, Hamilton and Gisborne, and Bev Potter says the company now has a consultant working on due diligence on other routes, seeing Napier as "the next step."
The company is looking at routes on the "Napier-Gisborne-Hamilton triangle" and it is hoped decisions can be made in the next few months, she said.
Meanwhile neither Jetstar owner Qantas nor fellow transtasman airline Virgin Australia, have any plans for New Zealand domestic services, although Virgin, which flew a chartered jet in and out of Hawke's Bay Airport with 150 Melbourne Storm players and supporters for an NRL rugby league match in Napier in 2015, does have a fleet serviced in New Zealand, at Air New Zealand's regional maintenance facility in Nelson.
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Jetstar confirmed last week that it will pull out of Napier at the end of next month, while Sounds Air has decided to discontinue the Napier-Blenheim service it started late in 2015.