MPs argue over Air NZ changes

David Clark.
David Clark.
Dunedin MPs are in a dogfight over Air New Zealand's decision to cut a daily flight between the city and Auckland.

This week the Otago Daily Times reported the airline had cut its only evening flight between the cities, angering some in the business community.

Dunedin North MP David Clark and Dunedin South MP Clare Curran said the move showed Dunedin was becoming a backwater for air services.

However, Dunedin-based National list MP Michael Woodhouse said yesterday their comments were ''noisy, late and totally wrong, in respect with what Air New Zealand was doing and why''.

Mr Woodhouse released a January 15 letter to the Air New Zealand chief executive revealing he had been aware of the proposed domestic changes, and seeking an explanation.

Those changes mean that from next month the evening flight, which leaves Auckland at 7pm and arrives in Dunedin at 9pm, will cease.

The last direct flight of the day will depart Auckland at 3.30pm.

Clare Curran.
Clare Curran.
In his letter Mr Woodhouse mentioned the impact the rescheduling would have on travellers, particularly business travellers.

''Unlike what Dr Clark is saying, this has absolutely nothing to do with Air New Zealand's faith in Dunedin, or Government's support for it.

"This is a simple scheduling challenge which, I think, will be bad for Air New Zealand's business and bad for business travellers wanting to spend a day in either city and then return home to their home destination.''

Air New Zealand responded to his letter by saying it was an aircraft availability issue, and it was looking into his concerns.

''For Dr Clark to start beating up the Government on this was just opportunistic nonsense.''

Dr Clark told the ODT that Air New Zealand was reading ''market signals and can see the Government is withdrawing infrastructure from the regions, with a two-speed economy developing''.

Michael Woodhouse.
Michael Woodhouse.
Ms Curran said ''Dunedin cannot, and should not, risk becoming a backwater for air services''.

Asked what Labour would be doing differently if it won the election, she replied a regional development strategy was needed.

''Evidence by the demise of Hillside, by the imminent demise of Invermay ... the signals are all that Dunedin is not seen as an important region in the country.''

Ms Curran deflected a question on whether she supported underwriting regional flights, but replied she wanted to know what was behind Air New Zealand's decision.

In a briefing last week, Air New Zealand officials described the city as, ''last cab off the rank'' in regards to the changes in fleet from 737s to A320s, she said.

That change from Boeing 737-300 (133 seats) to Airbus A320 (171 seats) compared with the reduction in flights meant total capacity had gone down about 10%.

An Air New Zealand spokesman said the airline ''frequently adjusts schedules across the domestic network to match customer demand''.

A Jetstar spokesman said Jetstar offered more than 2500 seats each week between Dunedin and Auckland, and had no plans to expand its daily A320 Auckland-Dunedin services.

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