FOR most of the passengers on Air Chathams’ inaugural flight into Whakatane on Monday, it took eight times as long to reach Auckland Airport as it did to fly home.
A 19-strong contingent from the Eastern Bay took an early-morning bus ride to Auckland to be aboard the Convair 580 for the first flight into Whakatane following the departure of Air New Zealand.
Mayor Tony Bonne, councillors, council staff and business, tourism and media representatives joined Air Chathams staff and a small number of paying passengers for the special flight, captained by airline owner Craig Emeny.
With his son Duane in the co-pilot’s seat, Mr Emeny provided his first passengers with a smooth ride, from the moment they checked in at the Air Chathams counter at Auckland Airport through to landing in Whakatane a short time later.
Everyone on board was noticeably impressed with the airline’s friendly professional service and the 50-seater aircraft’s comfort, especially after spending four-and-a-half hours on a bus and experiencing the nose-to-tail crawling pace of an Auckland motorway.
Air Chathams will also have an 18-seater Metroliner servicing the Auckland-Whakatane route but it is the larger Convair that Mr Emeny is hoping to use to build visitor numbers to the region.
For frequent flyers used to the cramped conditions of the Air New Zealand Beechcraft, the Convair is like flying business class. It has an abundance of leg room, overhead lockers for your carry-on luggage, an easily accessible toilet and room to walk around in the aisle when the seatbelt light goes off.
As Mr Bonne puts it: “We’ve had a 19-seater minibus coming in and now we’ve got a 50-seater coach”.
“We’ve got a service with two pilots – the other airports [abandoned by Air New Zealand] have all gone for single-engined one-pilot services – so our service is still superior and it does give us opportunity for expansion,” he said.
Being a bigger plane everyone no longer automatically gets a window seat on the Convair 580 but there’s the bonus of being seated alongside your travel companion, or, if you’re travelling alone, some other interesting person.
If not, rest assured it’s a quick 35-minute flight with hardly time to open the newspaper and more time spent ascending and descending than flying above the clouds.
Air Chathams is keen to provide the Eastern Bay with the best air service possible and is hoping the community will support the airline in the same numbers and with the same gusto they supported the open day on Sunday.
Mr Bonne shared this hope: “We had 5000-odd people go out to the open day. We now need all those people to always look at Air Chathams as the first option when they choose their flights”.
Air Chathams is now flying regular daily flights between Whakatane and Auckland with fares priced from $89 to $339.
Mr Emeny said due to gate availability in Auckland, and travel connections through Auckland for Whakatane residents, the company had adjusted the times of the morning and afternoon flights out of Whakatane Airport. The morning flight now leaves 10 minutes earlier at 7.05am (Monday to Friday) and the afternoon flight also leaves 10 minutes earlier at 4.20pm (every day except Saturday).
There is also a change to the time of the last flight out of Auckland, now scheduled for 5.45pm (every day except Saturday) instead of the previous 6pm.
Charter services are also available on the 18 and 50-seater aircraft with Air Chathams able to cater to the specific requirements of groups including an on-board catering and beverage service.
The beautifully restored DC3 is available for special charter of scenic flights.