'Long run-up’ to win flights

Record monthly numbers and increased flights look set to drive growth at Dunedin Airport, as management continues to try to add transtasman cities to the list of destinations available to passengers.

While numbers were down slightly in the 2014-15 year, airport chief executive Richard Roberts said April 2015 was the busiest on record, with just over 78,000 passengers in and out.

November was the second-busiest, just 35 short of April, due to the Fleetwood Mac concert at Forsyth Barr Stadium.

With a recently announced increase in Kiwi Regional Airlines flights to Nelson and Tauranga, and a Wellington Jetstar service adding more than 53,000 seats, Mr Roberts said he expected the airport would be able, for the first time, to welcome its millionth customer in a calendar year before long.

Mr Roberts, who began in the position in 2014, said with six new flights over summer to Brisbane, the transtasman market was showing good signs.

"The biggest concern to me coming into the role was whether or not international traffic was going to continue at Dunedin Airport.

"Were we going to be the next Palmerston North or Hamilton?''

The response from airlines, he said, was "no'', and adding capacity was testament to that.

Since then he had travelled to Australia to talk to airlines to try to add routes.

Mr Roberts said research backed up the viability of added routes but he had to play a long game to attract airlines.

That research found when people left Dunedin Airport and flew to Christchurch, Auckland or Brisbane, Sydney was their biggest destination.

Origin and destination profiling, while it did not cover all ticket sales, showed of 40,000 international passengers to and from Brisbane, 50% more, or 60,000, were going to Sydney.

There was an opportunity to carry those passengers and Mr Roberts said he took a business case to airlines in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne in October.

Whether that was successful, he said, was "hard to tell - we've just got to be out there in that space''.

On getting extra services he said: "Man, it's a long run-up''.

Schedules were based on the northern summer, from March to October, and the northern winter, November to February.

Schedules for March to October were locked in mid-December.

Access to Sydney, he said, was "like an auction''.

"We're going ‘mate, please come to our airport'.

"Sydney are going ‘you can come, but here are the rules'.

"'You're going to bid for this slot and whoever gives me the most cash can come in'.

"Those constraints dictate the whole international network.''

Airlines were now working on scheduling for October 2016 to March 2017, so changes may not be known for another year.

"It's a long run-up.

"It's not like ordering a bus to Oamaru.''

Mr Roberts also said the idea of Dunedin as a cold place needed to change.

If Auckland people, for instance, were asked to do a word-association exercise, and asked about Queenstown, they might respond bungy or skiing, but for Dunedin.

"I'll bet you, I'll put my mortgage on it, the first word will be ‘cold'''.

"That's got to change - that's got to change.

"People in Dunedin do it.

"You should try spending 29 winters in northern England,'' Mr Roberts, originally from Yorkshire, said.

"This is tropical.''

david.loughrey@odt.co.nz

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