Four airlines now vying for Kaitaia flights

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FLIGHT PATH WARS: Sunair Aviation owners Dan and Bev Power with one of their Piper Aztecs on a flying visit to Kaitaia Airport on Friday.
FLIGHT PATH WARS: Sunair Aviation owners Dan and Bev Power with one of their Piper Aztecs on a flying visit to Kaitaia Airport on Friday.

Whichever airline ends up replacing Air New Zealand on the Kaitaia-Auckland route, the town's air passengers are likely to end up with a better timetable.

One of the gripes about the current twice-daily Air New Zealand service is that the morning flight leaves too late for business travellers to get a full business day in Auckland. As a result many drive the extra hour to Kerikeri to catch an early flight.

However, Tauranga-based Sunair - one of four airlines now vying to fly the route - says it would base an aircraft and two crew at Kaitaia.

That means its first flight could leave at 7am, guaranteeing a full day in Auckland, and return about 9.30am. A second return flight could leave about 4-5pm.

Sunair owners Dan and Bev Power were in Kaitaia on Friday to meet airport operators Far North Holdings, Kaitaia business representatives, and the Chinese owners of a major tourism venture on Karikari Peninsula.

Auckland-based company Inflite was also in town on Friday, making use of a charter flight to Kaitaia to show off its plane and give a few lucky locals a free flight to Auckland.

Two more companies are understood to be interested in flying from Kaitaia but their identity is still under wraps.

Mr Power said his company would use its nine-seater Piper Chieftain or, as long as the business plan stacked up, buy a 12-seater Cessna Caravan. The level of landing fees charged at Kaitaia would be one of the crucial factors in deciding whether the plan had wings.

It was too early to say what flights would cost but a one-way ticket was likely to be similar to the current Air New Zealand fare. Reaction to the firm's proposal had been very positive, Mr Power said.

"Being somewhat remote the local community requires an air service. There's some nervousness about the possibility of not having one - we're here to allay those fears."

Mrs Power said the feedback so far had included one particularly heart-warming letter from a Kaitaia GP who told them how much medical services depended on flights to Auckland and Wellington. If there were no Kaitaia flights it would be even harder to persuade good staff to live in the very Far North, the GP said.

While in Kaitaia the Powers met airport staff and Far North Holdings chief executive Andy Nock, Kaitaia Business Association representatives, and the owners of Carrington Estate where a huge hotel development is planned.

Meanwhile, Inflite's 19-seat Jetstream 32 dropped into Kaitaia on Friday afternoon with 16 Chinese passengers heading to Carrington Estate. The plane had been due to return empty to Auckland so the firm offered the seats free to Kaitaia's business community and, via a GP, locals who needed to get to Auckland but could not afford to fly. The remaining seats were offered to Age readers who phoned in after last week's story. In the end only Bruce and Chris Buckby seized the opportunity, flying to Auckland to visit elderly parents before making their own way home to Kaitaia.

Inflite is the only third-level airline already operating planes of the same size as the Beechcraft 1900D Air NZ uses on the Kaitaia run. It also plans to offer early-morning flights if its bid is successful.

Air New Zealand's last flight out of Kaitaia is on April 28.

- Northland Age

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