Marlborough Express - The Saturday Express, Marlborough
Nelson-Blenheim flights to take off
A temporary, subsidised air service between Nelson and Blenheim is set to take flight during the planned seven-week closure of State Highway 6 between Hira and Rai Valley.
The Originair morning and evening return service is scheduled to run on a two-week trial basis initially from November 1, with seats costing a standard $89 – or $99 for a flexi fare.
However, the aim is to continue the air service for the entire seven weeks of the planned closure, provided the demand for seats is sufficient.
‘‘We’re very glad to be able to step up to the mark and provide a service between Nelson and Blenheim return,’’ said Originair operations manager Murray Vincent. ‘‘Of course, for the service to work, we’ll be needing people to utilise the service.’’
The air service was initiated by Nelson mayor-elect Dr Nick Smith with the support of re-elected Tasman mayor Tim King and Marlborough mayor-elect Nadine Taylor.
‘‘State Highway 6 is a critical link for both Nelson and Marlborough, and its closure for seven weeks for repairs from the devastating August weather event is going to be very disruptive for the 4000 vehicles that would normally use it each day,’’ Smith said.
He was approached by health professionals who were facing a journey of more than 21⁄2 hours each way via the alternative route through the Wairau Valley on SH63.
‘‘They were very concerned about their capacity to maintain health services with an extra hour’s journey [each way] for both health professionals and patients,’’ Smith said. ‘‘There are many health professionals that commute between Nelson and Blenheim who were facing over five hours of driving each day with little time left to see patients and provide care.’’
The 20-minute flight between was also expected to be seen as a better alternative to the long drive for other business people and travellers.
There had been discussions about the possibility of a charter flight but Originair had indicated such a service would be uneconomic without some subsidy.
To help make it viable, the Nelson and Marlborough airport companies had agreed to waive landing charges for the flights while a $10-per-seat subsidy would be provided from the Nelson Tasman Mayoral Relief Fund, up to a maximum of $10,000.
Smith thanked Nelson MP Rachel Boyack for her support in helping secure a further $90,000 for the mayoral relief fund from Emergency Management Minister Kieran McAnulty. He encouraged people to book a seat via the originair.co.nz website.
‘‘If there isn’t good patronage, we’re not going to be able to maintain it for the seven weeks,’’ Smith said. ‘‘[I’m] just encouraging people to make the best of a bad situation from the State Highway 6 closure and take up this wonderful service that Originair’s offering.’’
To be provided on an 18-seat Jetstream twin turboprop aircraft, the ‘‘working day’’ service is scheduled to leave Nelson for Blenheim at 7.40am before flying back to Nelson at 8.40am. It was then set to leave Nelson again at 4pm and return from Blenheim at 5pm.
Originair chief executive Rob Inglis said the airline was looking forward to keeping Nelson and Blenheim connected.
‘‘We’re going to save a lot of unnecessary travel for people with essential journeys over the coming weeks,’’ Inglis said.
Marlborough mayor Nadine Taylor said the air link was great news for people who need to travel between Blenheim and Nelson, particularly health professionals who work from both the Wairau and Nelson Hospital sites.
‘‘There are many others in our community who could benefit from this new air link and I encourage people to use it.’’
Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency plans to close SH6 between Hira and Ronga Rd, near Rai Valley, from November 1 to December 18 to make emergency repairs. People travelling by road between Blenheim and Nelson are advised to use SH63 to Kawatiri junction then SH6.