Aussie flights on radar for Hawkes Bay

Trans-Tasman travel is finally on the radar of Hawke's Bay Airport with the announcement of a survey to gauge interest in flights across the ditch.

The survey was flagged by the airport board chairman John Palairet when he presented its annual report to one-third shareholder Hastings District Council yesterday.

The survey would be contracted to an agency which had experience in similar reports and the results would be fed back to the shareholders (Hastings and Napier city councils, and the Crown) as well as Air New Zealand, the only domestic carrier operating out of the Bay.

"I can tell you we will be surveying people on the airport regarding trans-Tasman travel in November. It will include a lot of businesses using direct contact by telephone and it will be quite a wide-ranging survey," Mr Palairet said.

Councillor Simon Nixon, a campaigner for trans-Tasman travel, questioned whether the survey would "address the right people" to ensure the result was a fair account of public opinion and include a mix of business and holiday travellers.

Mr Palairet said the council would have to "rely on us" to engage a survey company which could work to the level the council wanted. A previous survey conducted by the board revealed the price of airfares was the biggest issue preventing travel from the airport.

"That information was also taken back to Air New Zealand," Mr Palairet said.

The council heard the airport's revenue was up 20 per cent to $3.07 million for 2011/12 compared to $2.55 million in 2010/11, mainly due to landing fees. But profit fell as expenditure rose by nearly $500,000, or 33 per cent, compared to the previous year, through insurance premiums, staffing costs and consultant costs connected to the development of the new airport business park.

Deputy Mayor Cynthia Bowers asked whether the increase in landing fees would be a barrier to attracting other airlines to operate from Hawkes Bay.

"Airlines take a hard line in relation to landing charges but in my view I don't think it does have an impact," Mr Palairet said.

"What is a barrier is the slow growth in passenger numbers, which are flattening out around the 440,000 mark [for 2012].

"Airlines look to see if they can make money out of the current passenger loading but usually those numbers pick up when a new airline comes along because of competitive pricing."

- By Lawrence Gullery of Hawke's Bay Today

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