Airline in last-ditch attempt to save service

Barrier Air has advised Far North Holdings and the Far North District Council that it intends to withdraw its daily flight between Kaitaia and Auckland at the end of January unless it can boost the number of people using the service.

The airline has introduced a raft of new flexible fares from $99 each way in a bid to do this and these are available on its website (www.barrierair.kiwi) now.

Non-flexible tickets purchased two weeks before travel now cost $99.00 each way, partially-flexible fares cost $179 each way and cost $30 to change, while fully-flexible tickets cost $199.00 per leg.

All tickets purchased, whether flexible or non-flexible, will be fully refunded if the service is closed down. 

The airline budgeted on filling at least half the seats on each flight but has not been meeting this target since it started the service in April this year. It says it is losing a substantial amount of money each month on the service and cannot afford to do so for much longer.

Barrier Air chief executive Michael Foster said he was prepared to hold on for another four months to see if the situation changed with the onset of the summer tourism season.

“We’re hoping there will be a boost to traffic with people travelling to visit friends and family and with a greater number of tourists flying into the region,” Mr Foster said.

The airline will introduce its new Cessna Caravan onto the route. This is a more spacious, newer and economical aircraft than the Piper Chieftain it has been using to date.

It will also be introducing flexible fares and a range of special and discounted ticket prices in an attempt to grow the number of Northlanders using the service.

“We’ve heard those people who have said that our fares are too expensive. But the truth of the matter is that we set them at the lowest possible point we could, on the basis that we would be operating at about 50 percent over winter and spring,” Mr Foster said.

“Now that we’re entering summer we want to see if we can grow the Kaitaia to Auckland service to reasonable levels. And if we can’t I’m afraid we’re just going to have to pull the pin.”

The company has worked closely with Far North District Council’s commercial arm and Kaitaia Airport operator Far North Holdings to drum up business since it started operating the route. Far North Holdings funded a ‘Use it or Lose it’ advertising campaign over winter and Far North mayor John Carter has called repeatedly for people to support the service.

“All of us at Council are deeply concerned about this threat to the service,” Mr Carter said. “As I have said on many occasions, the very Far North desperately needs a regular commuter air service between Kaitaia and Auckland, for a host of different reasons.

“Both Council and Far North Holdings will continue to work with and to support Barrier Air to the very best of our ability but, at the end of the day, they’re not a charity and if the route is not commercially viable then we understand and we will have to roll with that punch.”

Barrier Air will continue to operate medical flights between Whangarei and Kaitaia as part of a commercial arrangement it has with the Northland District Health Board.

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