James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Virgin's pullout cuts Hamilton airport revenue

Virgin's withdrawal from Hamilton airport means there are no international flights leaving the city - hitting revenue for the airport. Photo /  Christine Cornege.
Virgin's withdrawal from Hamilton airport means there are no international flights leaving the city - hitting revenue for the airport. Photo / Christine Cornege.

Hamilton's airport is blaming the loss of its only trans-Tasman carrier for a drop in revenue but is keeping the "international" in its title, hoping overseas flights could once again be a reality.

Hamilton International Airport's financial results for 2013 show its operating revenue was $6.521 million which is a $751,000 drop on last year for the 12 months to June 30.

A major contributor is the $530,000 the airport lost when Virgin Australia quit it in October 2012.

That followed Air New Zealand's decision to bail out of its transtasman flights in 2009 and means the airport is now a far cry from the days when it had two international airlines and 15 weekly flights to Australia and the Pacific Islands.

Also on the slide were domestic passenger numbers which fell 6 per cent to 295,000 with less demand for flights on Wellington and Christchurch routes.

The airport's earnings before interest, tax and depreciation were down $741,000 or nearly a quarter at 24 per cent at $2.3 million for the same period.

But general manager (commercial) George Clark said it had been going through a period of restructuring and believed its future was bright.

"Things are in pretty good shape considering we lost international flights a third of the way through the financial year last year ... but we are well on track with our strategic plan for the new financial year."

Mr Clark said the airport was focusing on growing domestic passenger numbers, property development within the airport precinct and "evaluating opportunity for an international connection in the future".

"We have plans and actions that have been taken and are well down the track on a number of them so we aren't sitting on our hands, I can assure you."

Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker said it was difficult for a regional airport to grow its domestic passenger base when Air New Zealand faced little competition.

She said securing overseas carriers had always been a focus of the airport but they had been hampered by a lack of people using their services in the past.

"That was the reason given for the last carrier, Virgin Blue, to leave ... it's basically use it or lose it.

"The key here is not only to get the flights going but to get third party investment that is linked with that. I'm very supportive of that, now I have been re-elected I will be focusing on third party investment and getting international flights back."

Councillor and former Kiwi Air boss Ewan Wilson said Hamilton International Airport's name was now "inappropriate". He was also not surprised by the fall in domestic passenger numbers.

"That is a byproduct of Hamiltonians realising that if you want to get a competitive airfare to fly anywhere nationally you drive to Auckland," he said.

"That is predictable because Air New Zealand charges like a wounded bull and provides a second rate service in terms of aircraft and frequency."

Mr Wilson said a proactive strategy to court an equity investor to come in and lengthen the runway was needed.

- NZ Herald

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