30 January 2013

Final Boarding Call for Wanaka





Today Air New Zealand operates its final service to Wanaka. This is a post on the history of the 8 year service.

Late in 2003 Air New Zealand announced that its Link carrier, Eagle Air, would commence a new daily service between Christchurch and Wanaka using Beech 1900Ds in March the following year.

The first flight was operated by Beech 1900 ZK-EAP on the 19th of March 2004. On board was the Air New Zealand Group General Manager of Marketing, Network and Sales, Norm Thompson. He was reported as saying that "Flying in today was a great occasion because it marks the start of a new era for the Wanaka region. This is an exciting opportunity for Wanaka locals, regular travellers and holidaymakers to Wanaka, and we need their support to make this service an on-going success."

The initial timetable had a Monday to Friday departure from Christchurch at 10.45am which arrived at Wanaka an hour later at 11.45am. The return journey departed at 12.05pm and arrived back in Christchurch at 1.00pm. The Sunday service departed Christchurch at 10.55am and Wanaka at 12.15pm, while the Saturday schedule had a 1.10pm departure from Christchurch and a 2.30pm departure from Wanaka.



Over the peak summer period of 2005/2006, from December 26 to January 20, Air New Zealand increased the weekday flights to twice a day. A similar expansion of flights was made during the 2006 ski-season with extra Christchurch-Wanaka services operated during the peak of the season from the 7th of August to the  21st of September 21. From this time on extra Friday and Sunday services operated year round. Over the next three years the service operated with between 7 and 9 flights per week.

After taking over the Wanaka Airport in 2009 the Queenstown Airport Corporation approached Eagle Air about the possibility of increasing flights to Wanaka, and in particular to explore whether there would be more demand for earlier and/or later flights in and out of Wanaka. This moved was very much supported by Lake Wanaka Tourism and the Wanaka Chamber of Commerce who were buoyed by visitor statistics released showing that Wanaka had the highest proportional increase in tourist numbers in New Zealand. In March 2010 some 50 local representatives met with Eagle Air’s chief executive, Carrie Hurihanganui. At the meeting, which was reported in the Otago Daily Times, Carrie Hurihanganui said that, Eagle Air's daily noon flight schedule into Wanaka Airport was "unprofitable". The Wanaka flight to and from Christchurch was "marginal at best" and although it was not Eagle Air's "lowest-performing route" it was in the bottom half of the domestic carrier's 21 destinations. There had been a "reasonably static" demand for the existing flight service, with passenger numbers staying at about 70% of capacity during the past six years. Increasing capacity or changing flight schedules to Wanaka presented significant challenges to Eagle Air's overall domestic flight network, although these challenges were “in no way insurmountable.” The president of the local Chamber of Commerce, Leigh Stock, was reported as saying  the noon timing of Eagle Air's existing flight service was unsuitable for local business travellers and, as such, was "virtually ignored" in favour of travelling to fly out of Queenstown. Many business owners at the meeting asked if Eagle Air would consider a change in flight scheduling to allow for morning and afternoon flights in and out of Wanaka Airport.

Later the same month, FlyDirect, a new charter company, announced its intention to fly charter flights from Wellington and Christchurch into Wanaka using Vincent Avaition’s Dash 8 and Air Chathams’ Convair. The flights, scheduled to begin on the 1st of July, were aimed at offering package skiing holidays that included air fares, accommodation, ski passes and rental cars. By June that year FlyDirect had collapsed but Wanaka’s desire for an air service had only increased. Whether it was Wanaka’s enthusiasm or the perceived threat of some other FlyDirect-type competition, but in July 2010 Air New Zealand announced a three to six month trial of new flights to Wanaka with the number of flights increased by 40%. The new schedule, which began on the 30th of August 2009, offered two flights each way on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays, and one flight each way on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Eagle Air’s General Manager, Carrie Hurihanganui, was reported as saying The solid patronage of the direct service between Christchurch and Wanaka clearly showed us that one non-stop flight per day needed to be reviewed to serve the needs of both business and leisure travellers. The additional flights reinforce Air New Zealand’s commitment to the Wanaka region, helping to grow the region’s business and tourism links. We have been working closely with local stakeholders since March, including Wanaka Chamber of Commerce, Lake Wanaka Tourism and Queenstown Lakes District Council, who are confident that there will be strong demand for the additional services. The trial will give us the opportunity to gauge the level of local support we receive for the retimed and additional flights. The retimed early morning flights offer improved timings for business travellers. While the new Friday and Sunday afternoon flights provide great options for weekend visitors.

The Monday, Wednesday and Friday services had departures out of Christchurch at 8.30am and 3.50pm and the return flights departing out of Wanaka at 9.50am and 5.10pm. The single Tuesday and Thursday flights followed the morning schedule of the other weekdays while the weekend services saw a Saturday and Sunday service leaving Christchurch just before 11.00am and leaving Wanaka just after noon with a second flight from Christchurch on Sundays at 1.55pm and leaving Wanaka at 3.15pm.

By the end of November 2010 Carrie Hurihanganui said there was no doubt more passengers were travelling but it was too early to make any definite decision on the success of the new service. By March 2011 the Eagle data showed inbound flights to Wanaka were not as well frequented as outbound flights and the general sentiment from Eagle Air was that while the response to the improved service has okay that it could do better. The expanded service remained until June 2011 when the Monday afternoon service was cut, and then in December 2011 it was announced that the service would reduce to a daily service from the end of January 2012.

Eagle Air's Beech 1900D ZK-EAR at Wanaka on 8 January 2013

Carrie Hurihanganui was reported as saying Eagle worked hard with the local business and tourism sectors to try to make the new schedule work. While the schedule changes over the past year have seen some growth in the market, other influencing factors such as seat factor, fare levels etc have not grown. Consequently with escalation in fuel costs and increases in operating costs, the poor performance of the route has significantly escalated.

The Wanaka service continued to struggle and on the 14th of November 2012 Eagle Air announced it was suspending it from the 30th of January 2013. Carrie Hurihanganui said the service had always struggled commercially and had lost “hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years" and was "not projected to break even in the near future". The withdrawal of the air service from Wanaka meant the loss of three part-time jobs at Wanaka Airport.

The final Wanaka timetable - January 2013

The final flight was operated today, the 30th of January 2013, by Beech 1900 ZK-EAG.

From my perspective there are two major reasons why the Wanaka service failed to perform. Foremost was Wanaka’s close proximity to Queenstown where direct flights with cheap fares were available to the three main centres as well as to the main east coast Australian cities. A second reason was that Air New Zealand never seemed to grasp who the Wanaka service was for. The initial 2004 timetable had a departure out of Christchurch about 11.00 am with the return from Wanaka 80 minutes later. Was the timetable an attempt to target tourists or business people or was it determined by the fact that an aircraft was free after the morning services between Christchurch and Hokitika? When the more twice daily business timetable was introduced it was late for Wanaka business people arriving into Christchurch at 10.45am and leaving southbound at 3.50pm. Eagle is not a dedicated tourist airline as Mount Cook Airlines once was. Certainly the Beech 1900 was not an ideal machine for skiers with their snow boards and skis. Nor is the Beech 1900 a big enough aircraft to offer a range of reduced fares as can be offered on a Boeing or Airbus service.

Eight years on Wanaka is now without an air service. While there is undoubtedly potential for an air service out of Wanaka any prospective operator would do well to remember that Aspiring Air, Mainland Air, Pacifica Air and Alpine Air have all tried to do what Air New Zealand tried to do without any more success. At the same time the Lake Wanaka/Lake Hawea areas are experiencing meteoric growth. If an operator could find the right formula there is no doubt that there is a niche here to be filled.


2 comments:

  1. There is an Airline with a formula....AIR NELSON!!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Yeah Right. A 50 seater aircraft operating on a route that struggles to fill a 19 seater 1900D. Duh!!!

    ReplyDelete