Strong demand for Air Napier flights
A year on from reopening air links between Gisborne and Napier, airline Air Napier is looking to buy a new, bigger aircraft to expand the service and maybe also “fill the gaps” left by the exit of Jetstar from the regions.
The route was opened in March this year, following a four-week soft launch with an initial six flights a week.
Air Napier chief executive Shah Aslam said strong demand meant the airline had now increased flights between the two centres from six a week to 16.
“It’s been hugely positive and hugely successful — we’ve ended with a bang. Our flying time over the last month has been up by 35 percent.
“We’ve picked up a lot more charters — we’ve been doing a lot more for DHBs around the regions. The scheduled service is strong at 80 percent occupancy and because of that we’ve had to up our flights.
“We’ve managed to create a good relationship with the regulator (CAA) and that’s helped us a lot.”
The airline had retained five aircraft and now employed 13 full-time staff.
“That impacts Tairawhiti as well and Hawke’s Bay, in general.”
Mr Aslam pointed out Jetstar’s recent abandonment of its regional routes showed how important pricing was in the industry.
“It is not realistic for people to expect seats from under $150 to $200 — long-term you are just not going to have that service available to you.”
It was expected flight frequency would again rise over the coming year, with other plans being worked on behind the scenes.
“They include scheduled services to other parts, and we are waiting for a couple of councils to sit down with us and have a conversation.”
Chief operating officer Mike Brown said achieving a first year in the aviation industry was a major milestone.
“We are aiming to get a bigger turbo-prop in. We’ve been speaking to investors and I think this is where local government and central government need to realise how we are contributing to the region positively — not only (with) job creation but overall productivity between the Gisborne and Napier region.
“We’ve added people to Gisborne and we’ve added people to Napier. We’ve had people email us to say they have taken a job in Napier just because Air Napier has those routes.
“The number of people we’ve shifted around the North island, be it for funerals and family gatherings, has been amazing to be a part of.”
Over the year the airline had also carried out charter flights to 14 regional airports.
“That’s huge — those were regions you couldn’t go to directly.”
It was now the responsibility of airport management and regional councils to ask Air Napier to fly there.
Regions needed to wake up to the fact that smaller players could fill the gap left by Jetstar.
“We’ve proven with Gisborne to Hawke’s Bay we can fill in those gaps and the little guys have been doing it for a while.”