October 9, 2008

Rival Airlines in City Flypast

By RASMUSSEN, Warwick; FEEK, Belinda

Hamilton International Airport is unlikely to get a lifeline from rival transtasman airlines to fill the void left by Air New Zealand.

Three airlines spoken to yesterday appeared lukewarm, at best, to the suggestion of starting Hamilton services, after Air New Zealand announced it was canning all but two international flights from the city from March next year.

Waikato Times readers, airport users and industry players have pushed for another airline to come into the market since the national carrier's announcement.

Transtasman flyer Pacific Blue didn't have any plans to come to Hamilton, but wouldn't completely rule it out.

Spokesman Phil Boeyen said the company had "had talks" with Hamilton Airport in the past and did keep in contact as part of "relationship building".

However, the budget airline, which is part of the cut-throat New Zealand-Australia market out of Auckland, had no immediate plans to come to Hamilton.

"It would be a natural part of a consideration for domestic and international flights if we were looking at expanding, but at this time the business is focusing on its existing routes," Mr Boeyen said. "We've expanded pretty quickly and we want to consolidate on that."

If Air New Zealand pulled its international schedule that could change things, he said. "If there were to be no international flights we would look at those opportunities. It would all come down to economics and a good business case. Never say never."

Budget airline Jetstar had no immediate intention of moving in to Hamilton. Corporate relations general manager Simon Westaway said the focus for his company was on its transtasman flights out of the South Island. "We've had a consistent level of operations for three years in Christchurch, that remains our focal point."

A Qantas spokeswoman said the airline had no plans to come back to Hamilton.

Air New Zealand's decision to axe its international routes, apart from the Hamilton-Brisbane link, was still being met with a mixture of anger and disappointment. Some still clung to the notion that another airline could easily come in and make the international routes work.

Duty Free Stores New Zealand chief executive Grant Archibald believed the greater Waikato aviation market had proved it could work time and time again. He said any operator that chose to offer competitive transtasman airfares would do well. "In recent months Air New Zealand has shown a reluctance to offer competitive fares out of Hamilton Airport. So they shouldn't be surprised that people in the Waikato are choosing to fly out of Auckland when they can save 150 bucks by doing so."

Mr Archibald said it had a long association with Hamilton Airport since 1996 just before the collapse of Kiwi Air. "This isn't the first crisis we've faced at the airport. That time it was Air New Zealand who saved the day with Freedom Air. We can only hope that there is someone else around who can do the same today."

Hamilton Taxis manager Andy Collins also hoped the ditched flights meant another airline, such as Pacific Blue could pick up the slack.

(c) 2008 Waikato Times. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.