Ka¯piti flights set for takeoff
Ka¯piti Coast District Council will pay a private airline to take flight.
In a decision made behind closed doors on Thursday, council members voted unanimously to subsidise Air Chathams to help get direct flights between Paraparaumu and Auckland off the ground again.
Ka¯piti Mayor K Gurunathan confirmed the council would pay $150,000 over the next three years for marketing.
But the full amount of the ratepayer subsidy would not be known until negotiations with Air Chathams were completed over the next few weeks.
Gurunathan would not comment on the rest of the subsidy, but said council would try to minimise its impact on ratepayers. ‘‘We have given the chief executive carte blanche to negotiate so I cannot give those details.’’
In March, Air New Zealand announced it was axing its service between Paraparaumu and Auckland, prompting fears it could spell the end for the privately-owned Ka¯piti Coast Airport.
The news caused a national outcry. Regional Development minister Shane Jones accused the airline of abandoning the regions and Gurunathan said it left his district vulnerable in a disaster.
Gurunathan said on Thursday that he did not expect the process with Air Chathams to be smooth sailing, but was confident most Ka¯piti residents would support the proposal.
‘‘We’re trying to work it so it doesn’t impact on ratepayers, some of it is budget we already have.’’
He hoped some of the billondollar a year Regional Development Fund would help the airline - a service he said was critical to the district.
When asked if it would be unusual for the council to fund a privately-owned business, Gurunathan said the community had every right to disagree but he believed the majority would support the move.
Before the public were excluded form the meeting, council chief executive Wayne Maxwell presented a Colmar Brunton survey that showed 91 per cent of Ka¯piti people supported re-establishing the service.
He spoke of the ‘‘untapped market’’ for travellers from out of the area and said Porirua City was of particular interest.
‘‘Porirua people only look south when it comes to flying to Auckland. There’s this little thing called an expressway that’s going to make Porirua very close to us.’’
Last week, airport owners Todd Property Group said they had made ‘‘considerable’’ efforts to assist Air Chathams.
Managing director Evan Davies said this included a free premises lease for the first year, followed by a 33 per cent discount on the lease previously paid by Air New Zealand for either another two years or the period Air Chathams is building up its Ka¯piti-Auckland service.
‘‘We have also offered significant discounts on other operating charges to support the successful startup of a new service.’’
In April, Air Chathams chief executive Craig Emeny said his airline would double the flights from Auckland to Ka¯piti and look to offer more services such as a Christchurch route.
Taxpayers’ Union spokesperson Louis Houlbrooke criticised the council’s decision, calling it ‘‘a classic case of corporate welfare’’.
‘‘Regular flyers like councillors and Chamber of Commerce members will benefit, but it will be at the expense of the general Ka¯piti ratepayer, who is far less likely to get their money’s worth from these flights,’’ Houlbrooke said.
‘‘Air New Zealand clearly decided the airline was too expensive to maintain, but apparently good business sense goes out the window when it’s the council spending ratepayer money.’’