The dream of ''Otago Air'' emerged from the hangar this
week, with potential investors in support. But the idea may
have crashed on take-off. What the proposal again highlighted
was an issue that continues to chafe at the ego of a city
clinging to its status as a major centre. David Loughrey
tracks its flight path.
Fred Doherty yesterday admitted there was ''a certain
potential for ridicule'' resulting from his idea of an
Otago-based airline to step in following the loss of Virgin's
seasonal flights from Dunedin to Sydney and Melbourne.
His ''dream'' to set up Otago Air by floating a company to
lease a plane and pilots, giving Dunedin direct services to
Australian cities, has produced plenty of comment and some
heat this week.
The loss of the international services clearly infuriated the
populace. So much, in fact, that close to 60 people this week
responded to the idea, each keen to invest $1000.
Turning promises into cash, of course, is another matter.
But the Otago Daily Times' call for interest unearthed a
continuing undercurrent of frustration in the South.
''I have just sent Air New Zealand an email stating: `Do you
know where Dunedin is?','' Sandra Scoles responded.
''I travel frequently to Australia and it's just another
knockback for Dunedin.''
Reader Jeff Dillon said it was ''very disappointing to see
the way that airline services have been downgraded in recent
years, both in terms of domestic links and our options for
more than one link into Australia''.
''If we have to get back to our pioneering roots by setting
up our own dedicated airline, then let's do it.''
Those views were countered by a small number opposing the
idea, including Gavin Dann's comment: ''Shouldn't this
article have been shelved until April 1 next year?''.
Mr Doherty said he had never been scared to speak out, and
was not deterred by comments from Dunedin International
Airport Ltd chairman Stuart McLauchlan the proposal had made
Dunedin a ''laughing stock''.
Mr Doherty also said this week he was keen to see whether any
''key players'' might pick up on parts of the idea that
needed someone with expertise.
But none in the business or local government milieu - those
whom Mr Doherty called on to develop the idea - were keen to
put up their hand.
Otago Regional Council chairman Stephen Woodhead responded he
would not recommend to his council it get involved in any
way; it was not the role of a local authority to lead the way
on such an issue.
Mayor Dave Cull also showed limited interest in an idea he
said could ''risk millions of ratepayer dollars''.
Mr McLauchlan noted the static economic environment.
''If the city was growing, we wouldn't be having this
Those comments are backed up by recent census data.
That showed Dunedin was poorer than New Zealand's other major
centres, and its labour force was shrinking.
The same Statistics New Zealand figures showed growth in the
Queenstown Lakes district - the richest part of Otago - had
pushed Otago's population beyond 200,000 for the first time.
When contacted this week, Animation Research Ltd chief
executive Ian Taylor was in traffic on the way to Auckland
airport to make the last direct flight to Dunedin at 3.30pm,
having left a conference early to do so.
He said Queenstown was getting more flights, as Dunedin's
were cut. Queenstown businesses were doing well and helping
attract people to the area.
''What are we doing?'' he asked.
But he also questioned whether Air New Zealand could ''do
He said the Government-owned business had a responsibility to
connect the regions.
''That's why we own the thing.''
Dunedin-based GPS mapping company TracMap managing director
Colin Brown said airlines - like other businesses -had to run
a commercial operation.
''One of the costs to us of choosing to do business in
Dunedin is that we know that when we travel it's going to
cost us more time and more money than if we were based in
Christchurch or Auckland.''
It was important to continue to agitate for more flights, but
''I have to recognise that we are never going [to match]
Christchurch or Auckland''.
He also said he regularly encountered the same issues in the
United States when travelling outside the main centres - a
comment that has been made more than once this week.
The man who has already run a version of Fred Doherty's plan
- former Kiwi Air boss Ewan Wilson - had his thoughts on some
comments that have arisen.
Mr McLauchlan said people did not appreciate the cost of
setting up an airline, ''the compliance cost to apply for a
licence and to get through the regulatory issues''.
Mr Wilson said ''inherently, people will try to see this as
an opportunity to make it as complicated as possible - they
will talk about getting their own aeroplane, pilots, air
operating certificates, and before you know it they will be
talking about appointing their own cabin crew.
''That will not work.
''What would work is a virtual airline and I could put them
in touch with two well-established, well-respected existing
operators based in Australia that have the aircraft, crew,
maintenance, insurance, operating certificate and available
Mr Wilson said he would be prepared to assist in a planning
day, with advice and expertise.
But any such event appears unlikely, unless somebody steps
forward to take the joystick of Otago Air.