Regional council says Kaitaia air service essential
The Northland Regional Council has added its voice to those urging all possible efforts be made to safeguard the future of Kaitaia's air service.
Council chairman Bill Shepherd says continuing to service Kaitaia is important for economic development, business and social reasons, but current operator Barrier Air is struggling to attract enough passengers.
Councillor Shepherd says the airline has warned without an upsurge in business, it too may be soon forced to drop the service it inherited only earlier this year after national carrier Air NZ cancelled its own services to Kaitaia last year.
"If Barrier Air is forced to abandon its Kaitaia service too my councillors and I feel there's a very real risk the airport will not be maintained and not be available to cater for future demand should it arise."
Councillor Shepherd says Kaitaia airport is essential for flying in medical specialists for Kaitaia Hospital and councillors expect development on the nearby Karikari Peninsula in particular will probably increase demand for flights into Kaitaia in time.
He says councillors, in particular his fellow Coastal North constituency representative Dover Samuels, a former Cabinet Minister, are also frustrated at what they feel is an 'unhelpful' attitude towards Barrier Air by Air NZ.
"Dover was in Cabinet when an economically struggling Air NZ went 'cap in hand' looking for more than $800 million to keep itself going and during this period it strongly emphasised its economic development and social responsibilities," Cr Shepherd says.
"Now servicing the regions from a social responsibility perspective appears to come a very distant second to commercial drivers; the latter prompting Air NZ to abandon its services to Kaitaia and some other provincial centres last year."
Councillor Shepherd says despite Barrier Air stepping in to fill the void in Kaitaia left by that withdrawal, Air NZ does not seem to be "particularly helpful in allowing any integration of Barrier Air flights from Kaitaia into Air NZ's network from Auckland".
"This makes it difficult for Barrier Air to attract passengers to their Kaitaia flights as potential passengers are choosing to drive to Kerikeri so that they link into the network."