Taking stock before the last Eagle Air flight departs from Wanaka Airport yesterday are ground handling crew members (from left) Stuart Schranz, George Smyth, Archie Gordon and Ralph Fegan (who is also airport manager). Photo by Lucy Ibbotson.
''Goodbye, good luck, and hopefully you'll return another
Those were the words Wanaka Airport manager Ralph Fegan
radioed to the pilot of one of Eagle Air's Beech 1900D
aircraft as it left the resort's runway for the last time
yesterday, nine years after the scheduled service first flew
into town. Air New Zealand subsidiary Eagle Air announced in
November it was suspending its daily Christchurch-Wanaka
flights from January 30 because the service was struggling
The launch of the service, on March 19, 2004, had been a
great occasion at the airport, with a red carpet rolled out
and a huge crowd on hand to welcome in the first Eagle Air
flight to Wanaka, Mr Fegan recalled.
Yesterday, there was little fanfare, other than a few staff
photographs on the tarmac, a friendly handshake between the
pilots and ground crew and the aircraft being escorted on to
the runway by Mr Fegan in the airport's Subaru fire truck.
In 2004, Mr Fegan was on the Lake Wanaka Tourism board and
the owner of the Wanaka Connexions bus company, which
provided figures to Air New Zealand on the number of visitors
to the region. He said the service's suspension was ''pretty
''A lot of us all bent over backwards to help make it
Timing, cost and unreliability of the flights had been
factors in its demise, he believed. Wanaka-based Eagle Air
ground part-time staff Stuart Schranz, George Smyth and
Archie Gordon have been made redundant. All three have other
part-time jobs, but agreed yesterday was a ''sad time''. They
would all miss ''the interaction with the public - it's
fantastic'', Mr Schranz said.
For Mr Smyth, who has been an Eagle Air ground agent at
Wanaka ''from day one'' and a long-serving Qantas staff
member before that, yesterday was particularly poignant.
''It's a sad day.
''But we're not tear-jerkers. We're old enough men to realise
we've had a great career here and we're going to miss it;
we're going to miss the people.''
Even Eagle Air captain James Coppard admitted he would miss
the regular flights in and out of the resort, which he
described as a ''nice little scenic spot''.
While there were just nine people on each of the
Christchurch-Wanaka 19-seater flights yesterday, numbers had
been ''huge'' in the past few weeks, which was typical for
this time of year, Mr Smyth said.
The airport is managed by the Queenstown Airport Corporation,
and chief executive Scott Paterson said there were no
replacement scheduled airline services in the pipeline for
An approach had been made by one party but ''it wouldn't work
- they wanted huge subsidies'', Mr Paterson said.
Those on site yesterday remained optimistic.
''One door shuts and another one opens,'' Mr Gordon said.
''Somebody else will happen along one of these days,'' Mr