By GUY WILLIAMS
Passengers flying into Queenstown on Air New Zealand’s turboprop planes will have to put up with weather-related disruptions for a while yet.
The airline says it’s in the “final stages” of getting Civil Aviation Authority approval for required navigation performance (RNP) technology in its turboprop fleet, but can’t give a timeframe for when it’ll actually happen.
In 2016, at a swanky do at a Gibbston winery, the airline announced it would spend $25 million on equipping its 68-seat ATRs with RNP navigation system that almost eliminates the need to divert an aircraft if there’s low cloud or fog to enter its fleet in 2018.
Unlike the airline’s jet fleet, its ATRs don’t have the system, which means passengers can’t rely on their flights arriving and departing as scheduled in bad weather – particularly in winter.
The airline’s chief commercial officer, Cam Wallace, tells Mountain Scene it’s working towards putting RNP in its turboprop fleet in the “short- to medium-term”.
“I can’t put a timeframe on it because that’s out of our control, and we’ve got to be respectful of the regulator.
“Our operations team is working in close collaboration with the CAA on working through the final stages of it.”
Like the flying public and the airport, the airline’s “very keen” to get it done, Wallace says.
The airline’s focused on “on-time performance” and knows RNP enhances that, especially in winter.
“As soon as we get the green light, we’ll be ready to go.”
Queenstown Chamber of Commerce boss Craig Douglas says the airline’s increased schedule through the resort in the past few years – pre-Covid that is – alleviated the issue to some extent.
But nevertheless it still remains an issue and “really impacts productivity at every level”.
“You’ve got businesspeople who might miss a whole day’s planned business in Christchurch or Queenstown, depending on which way they’re going.
“And you’ve got tourism operators who have to rejig their schedule around a disruption, and that causes a loss of productivity.”
A few years ago Air NZ introduced RNP into its A320s.
Douglas says that created a “step-change” in the weather-resilience of flights between Queenstown and Christchurch.