Queenstown-to-Dunedin air link floated

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The man behind plans for a Dunedin-Queenstown-Nelson daily air service is convinced it’ll fly.

Kiwi Regional Airlines (KRA) – the work of former Dunedin man Ewan Wilson – has announced plans for a seven days a week service.

Plans for air links between Dunedin and Queenstown have attracted plenty of early support, but might face hurdles before they can fly.

Wilson was behind the failed Kiwi Air, which collapsed in 1996 after intense competition, resulting in him being convicted of fraud. 

But the Hamilton city councillor’s bullish about his latest venture.

He stresses this time he would not be opposing the national carrier. Instead, Kiwi Regional Airlines would complement services already in place.

“Last time we lost that battle,” he says.

“The Ewan Wilson of today is someone who has learned a lot in the last 20 years.” 

Wilson was in Dunedin on Friday to discuss the plan with Dunedin International Airport chief executive John McCall. 

Wilson says his airline will take advantage of routes Air New Zealand is about to pull out of, and those it did not want to service.

He says regional NZ had been left off the air route map, and his service will make travel between regional centres fast and affordable, plus create extra employment and tourism opportunities. 

The plan has the full support of McCall, who says there’s nothing preventing the service using Dunedin airport.

Queenstown Airport Corporation (QAC) chief executive Scott Paterson also backs the move, but says the airline is yet to request a slot at the busy airport, and will need to deal with a curfew in mid-winter that means no flights after 4.30pm.

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee turned down the fledgling regional airline’s plans to operate domestic flights from Whenuapai air base, northwest of Auckland, to Wellington.

KRA will buy its own aircraft, something Wilson expects to happen towards the end of the regulatory process later this year.

The financial backing is in place to do that.

Wilson says the service he proposes will leave Dunedin early for Queenstown, allowing travellers to link up with international flights.

It will then head to Nelson and return later in the day.

Consideration is also being given to extending the route from Dunedin to Invercargill in future.

He will not reveal possible ticket prices, which he says are commercially sensitive.

McCall says the airport has been working with the company for a few weeks.

A Dunedin-to-Queenstown route is “a connection we’ve certainly had on our radar for a very long time”.

The difference between past Dunedin-to-Queenstown flights was the opportunity for a service with a pressurised aircraft, rather than a general aviation aircraft.

“It’s a totally different proposition to what we’ve had before.

“It’s one we believe the market has been asking for for a very long time.”

Enterprise Dunedin director John Christie says in his former role as chief executive of the Otago Chamber of Commerce, he gathered plenty of information on the issue through surveys of businesses.

“From a corporate perspective we know there is a demand there for services between Dunedin and Queenstown.”

He anticipates users will include those from professional services, such as lawyers, architects and accountants.

People at the moment are either going back and forth by car, or had offices in Dunedin and Queenstown, or Wanaka.

Health workers are another sector that will use the service, which will also provide opportunities for both business and tourism development, and for Dunedin to bring Australian visitors from Queenstown.

There is also an opportunity to bring people from both Queenstown and Nelson to Dunedin for events.

Flights to Queenstown also make international flights more accessible for Dunedin people.

Most international flights can only be taken from Christchurch.

Paterson says Queenstown airport has “slot co-ordination” so flight times have to be finalised before KRA can use the runway.

The airport will “most likely” have capacity for the flights, depending on the time, though winter might be difficult.

“That Dunedin-Queenstown leg has always been talked about.

“We have a lot of consultants, our own, going back and forth.

“Queenstown-Nelson is another route that has been spoken about in the past. I see some logic.

“We’d be delighted to handle them, see them arrive.”

Otago Daily Times