Three jobs lost at airport

Wanaka Airport manager Ralph Fagan lends former Wanaka Community Board chairwoman Ngaire Kilpatrick a hand as she leaves for Christchurch on an Eagle Air flight yesterday. Photo by Mark Price.
Wanaka Airport manager Ralph Fagan lends former Wanaka Community Board chairwoman Ngaire Kilpatrick a hand as she leaves for Christchurch on an Eagle Air flight yesterday. Photo by Mark Price.
Three part-time jobs at Wanaka Airport will be lost when Eagle Air suspends its daily Wanaka-Christchurch flights from January.

Wanaka-based Southern Alps Air has the contract to provide check-in and aircraft ground-handling services for the Air New Zealand subsidiary. Co-owner Anne Cooper told the Otago Daily Times yesterday the company had already given Eagle Air the required three months' notice to end the arrangement before the suspension of flights was announced on Wednesday.

She and her husband, Paul, took on the ground-handling contract a year ago but found it was "not sustainable" financially.

The end of the air service would have no impact on their own air charter business, but three staff working a total of five hours a day seven days a week would be out of a job. They included well-known airport identity George Smythe, who had been providing ground-handling services since Eagle Air began flying into Wanaka in 2004.

Eagle Air said the service was being suspended because it was struggling economically.

Wanaka airport manager Ralph Fagan said yesterday he was not surprised at the suspension, as many Wanaka people chose to drive to Queenstown for cheaper air fares.

"It's the old story: use it or lose it. It's as simple as that. It's a numbers game and if the numbers are not there, it just doesn't happen."

Yesterday, 14 people arrived on the 19-seat Beechcraft 1900D aircraft from Christchurch and the plane left with a full complement of passengers. Eagle Air has declined to provide details of its average loading, citing commercial sensitivity.

One of those departing yesterday was former Wanaka Community Board chairwoman Ngaire Kilpatrick, who now lives in Christchurch.

She was disappointed the service she used every couple of months was ending.

"Living in Christchurch, I miss the mountains and the lakes, the beauty of the place, and my friends, so coming back is like coming home, really.""I'll be devastated if I have to fly to Queenstown and someone has to come and pick me up."

Mrs Kilpatrick said the community had spent a lot of money improving Wanaka Airport, including the recently completed parking area.

The airport is managed by the Queenstown Airport Authority and chief executive Scott Paterson said yesterday the authority would not "give up" trying to secure a scheduled airline for Wanaka.

He did not know what alternatives there were to Eagle Air "at this stage".

mark.price@odt.co.nz