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.’’

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