Sharper air fares, capacity boosts welcome

Dunedin air links, while far from perfect, are not too bad, writes Peter McIntyre, chairman of the Otago Chamber of Commerce.

It's a perennial grump about living in Dunedin - the cost and frequency of flights to get in and out of the city.

Since being raised again recently, the Chamber has been considering how well the city is currently served by the services provided by airlines at Dunedin International Airport.

And our conclusion is: not too bad, considering.

It's not perfect, but it's not too bad either.

At present, Air New Zealand and JetStar service Dunedin, with the latter providing just a direct flight to and from Auckland daily.

The cost of an Auckland flight can be quite cheap, if booked far enough ahead, thanks to that small amount of competition.

Pricing on other routes remains an issue, and could be improved, particularly when businesses require tickets at the last minute. That's not an uncommon occurrence, and with many Dunedin businesses involved in the Christchurch rebuilding work, we would expect more of that last-minute demand in the months and years to come on that particularly route.

We'd also like to see flights commence between Dunedin and Queenstown, where, again, many businesses operate and need to be on short notice.

Those brickbats aside, it could be worse.

It's important to remember that Dunedin is at one end of a long country, and it's not a major international hub as Christchurch, Wellington and Auckland are.

Air New Zealand has pulled out major services and large planes from smaller or even similar-sized cities, such as Hamilton, yet Dunedin still retains jet services.

It wasn't that long ago that to reach Auckland locals had to go through either Wellington or Christchurch - but today we have several direct flights to New Zealand's largest city daily.

In fact, there are few locations in New Zealand you can't reach from Dunedin by air within three hours' flying time.

And, Dunedin people have enthusiastically used international services to Australia whenever they are offered.

Airlines obviously expect to make a profit, and they therefore base their route planning and frequency and capacity on demand. Therefore, for Air New Zealand to increase services in and out of the city, demand needs to be increased. The airline currently has the ability to increase and decrease plane sizes based on booked-ahead demand, and does so frequently.

Regular increased demand would change that schedule accordingly.

It also has the capacity to influence demand by lowering prices and there's no doubt we'd like to see more of that.

The chamber at all times in working for the benefit of its members, through its logistics committee, will continue to monitor and advocate for the commercial needs of its members and more widely the citizens of Dunedin and greater Otago.

But the bottom line remains that our economy growing will be the surest way of growing frequency of services or attracting competitors to the route to lower prices.

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