The new owner of Air Napier has big plans to cut the three-hour commute between Gisborne and Napier down to a 30 minute fly time, with a regular scheduled passenger service.
Following the purchase of Air Napier by SO Capital in November, company founder and new Air Napier chief executive Shah Aslam said a soft launch of the Napier-Gisborne route would start next week, with more Gisborne connections under consideration.
“Initial research has shown that the public are crying out for regular, scheduled flights connecting Napier direct to Hamilton, Tauranga, Gisborne, Palmerston North, and more.
“At Air Napier, we intend to start offering direct flights to the public, at an affordable rate, to better connect these cities in the near future. We want to save people time, whilst also offering an exceptional experience for our customers.”
Flight scheduling still had to be confirmed but there was a demand for the airline’s three-seater Senecas and seven-seater Navajo aircraft to perform “multiple” daily flights.
Mr Aslam said the airline would remain based at Hawke’s Bay Airport, where it had its own dedicated terminal, and it would also run a satellite office at Gisborne.
“We have had a positive response. From the business point of view, we’ve hired a couple more pilots as well because there is more demand. We’ve developed relationships with the Eastland Group up in Gisborne and with the Mayor, so it’s looking good.”
Mr Aslam said the company intended to build on the success of former owner Gary Peacock and unlike previous players who had “come and gone” in the regional carrier stakes, Air Napier would follow a “slow and steady” long-term approach.
He also praised the leadership of Gisborne Mayor Meng Foon.
“That’s what appealed to us about going to Gisborne first, the local leadership has just shown so much more interest — and that goes a long way.”
Mr Foon welcomed the news that Air Napier would be coming to Gisborne.
“It will provide a service which will help professionals and our community to do business in our region and also our people to get to the other regions which are not serviced by Air New Zealand.
“We wish them all the best.”
Eastland Group, which operates Gisborne Airport, said the news reinforced the need for a new terminal.
“Given Tairawhiti’s relative isolation from the rest of New Zealand, solid air connections are essential for continuing to grow the region’s economy and tourism offering,” Eastland Group chief executive Matt Todd said.
“This announcement reinforces the importance of having a future-proofed new airport terminal, one that not only showcases the stories of our region but is large enough to accommodate ever-increasing passenger numbers. We’re very supportive of initiatives like this, and wish Air Napier every success.”
Mr Aslam said they had been amazed to see how Gisborne was “bubbling” on their visits here.
“At times, certain places seem to be bursting at the seams.
“People are coming in and there’s a lot of business happening. We think there are a lot of good stories still to come out of that.”
He was confident of good demand for new air service connections.
“While the beauty of the New Zealand landscape is undeniable, the hills and rugged landscape that go along with that make commuting by car a lengthy exercise, to say the least,” said Mr Aslam.
“People are tired of wasting hours of their time sitting in cars, or sitting in airport lounges waiting for connecting flights from Auckland or Wellington.”
(See also editorial page 14)