Airline’s regional services taking off
Air Chathams is a Kiwi success story of how ingenuity and an ability to identify opportunities can result in significant growth.
Only three years ago the airline had a ﬂeet of five aircraft. Today this number has more than doubled.
Although the core business of Air Chathams has been its long-standing air service between the Chatham Islands and New Zealand mainland, the airline also operated a scheduled service in the Kingdom of Tonga under a subsidiary airline Chathams Pacific.
When political changes forced a decision to withdraw from Tonga in 2011 the company had to quickly come up with an alternative way to grow its business.
Airline general manager Duane Emeny says it was a diffi cult and heart-breaking decision to withdraw from Tonga but there was a silver lining.
At around the same time Auckland Airport offered Air Chathams the opportunity to lease a hanger at the airport, which allowed Air Chathams to quickly relocate its maintenance division back to New Zealand.
In the first six months the focus was on building up the company’s chartered ﬂights service.
But then good timing struck again when Air New Zealand made a strategic decision to withdraw from certain regional routes leaving open a gap in the market. Air Chathams made a successful bid for the Auckland to Whakatane route and the rest is history.
Air Chathams identified key areas of customer need and has designed a schedule to suit both business and leisure travellers.
Before withdrawing Air, NZ reduced the passenger numbers from Whakatane to only 18,000 from a high of 32,000 Air Chathams has since grown this figure to 23,000 and that is continuing to build.
In 2016 a bid was made to take over a second route and the company started operating a service between Auckland and Whanganui.
Air Chathams currently operates 36 ﬂights per week between Auckland and Whanganui with a similar schedule as the Whakatane-Auckland service.
Duane says that listening to what locals want has been a key ingredient in the airline’s success. For example on the Whanganui route a 50-seat Convair is used at peak times after positive feedback about its larger size offering more leg room and its speedier ﬂight times.
The Whanganui to Auckland route has seen Air Chathams invest in a Saab aircraft, which provides a more spacious comfortable interior along with ﬂight attendant services. The airline has recently purchased two additional Saab aircraft with the intention of introducing this type to the Whakatane-Auckland service.
The airline was started in 1984 by Duane’s father Craig. Craig’s background includes working as an engineer for the Air Force before training to ﬂ y.
He worked as a commercial pilot in the Chatham Islands before seeing the opportunity to start his own airline based around transporting live crayfi sh from the Chatham Islands to mainland New Zealand.
The airline now carries over 700 tonnes of seafood (including 400 tonnes of live crayfish) off the Chatham Islands each year, which Duane says has radically benefi tted the local economy by enabling high quality Chatham Island produce to be sold on the global market.
The Chatham Islands to mainland New Zealand routes are still the company’s mainstay of business.
Flights are scheduled six days per week to maincentres including Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, over the summer months dropping to four days per week over the quieter winter period.
Duane says the routes are a vital link for those living on the Chatham Islands back to the mainland.
Air Chathams plans to introduce a Boeing 737 to this route provided the government confirms the additional funding required to upgrade the existing airport.
“There is a lot of growth in the chilled seafood market and a larger craft means a lower cost per kilogram which will increase potential for margins on wet fish species and allow that market to grow similar to how live crayfi sh did in the nineties,” says Duane.
Another growing facet of the business is charter ﬂ ights and the company offers everything from 18-50 seat craft.
The company’s Douglas DC3, which is based in Tauranga, provides a unique point of difference for clients, as it is the only surviving RNZAF World War II veteran aircraft still operating today in frontline service.
The company also has a successful charter freight business and can operate to a variety of destinations in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.
“Air Chathams is an example of taking opportunities when they present themselves and putting your heart and soul into making it work,” says Duane.
“We’ve developed a regional New Zealand network and growing charter freight business and have aspirations for another domestic service in New Zealand in 2018.
“We are proud of our heritage and our brand and wear the Chatham map proudly on our aircraft tail.”