Air New Zealand has been asked to reconsider direct flights between Blenheim and Christchurch, but in a case of ‘no means no’ the airline is standing by its original decision.
Marlborough Mayor John Leggett met with Air New Zealand regional affairs manager Ian Collier two weeks ago when he asked the airline to consider reinstating the route.
Air New Zealand ended the direct flights last July, months after they increased capacity by phasing out their 19-seater Beechcraft 1900Ds with 50-seater Bombardier Q300s.
Leggett said the decision was made before the earthquake last November took out State Highway 1, which was why he asked Collier to consider re-instating the service.
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“We believe there’s a real need for it. But in saying that we’ve got to acknowledge the work of Sounds Air who stepped in and got a direct route up and running,” he said.
The closure of SH1 and re-routing of traffic on the alternative highway between Picton and Christchurch added about 150 kilometres, or three-and-a-half hours, to the journey.
Leggett said this bolstered the case for another transport option. Collier was open to discussing the route, however he made it clear Air New Zealand would not be making any commitment, Leggett said.
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“He wanted us to be aware that they’ve got a nationwide view and there are all sorts of constraints around plane availability and the availability of staff,” he said.
An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said the airline announced it was suspending the loss-making Blenheim-Christchurch direct route last May as a result of insufficient demand.
She said Collier met with mayors and regional stakeholders every week, and his visit to Marlborough was part of the airline’s regular programme of engagement.
“As we’ve stated previously, we have no current intention to reinstate services between Blenheim and Christchurch. Sounds Air now operates a service on this route and we wish them every success,” she said.
“Air New Zealand remains committed to serving regional New Zealand, including Marlborough.”
The spokeswoman said in the 2017 financial year Air New Zealand had grown capacity between Blenheim and Wellington by 24 per cent, and Auckland and Blenheim by 6 per cent.
This represented a total of 41,000 extra seats in and out of Blenheim compared to the previous financial year, she said.
Leggett was joined at the meeting by council chief executive Mark Wheeler, Marlborough Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stephen Gullery and Marlborough Airport chief executive Dean Heiford.
“We were also talking about flights to Wellington, we’ve got early flights and ones later in the day, but more in the middle would be good for business people to be able to get back earlier,” Leggett said.