News: Comment on Air New Zealand withdrawal from Whakatane


25/11/2014

The Air New Zealand decision to withdraw services from Whakatāne Airport from April 2015 could be bad news for the Eastern Bay economy and would potentially have a significant negative impact on the future economic development of the region, according to the Eastern Bay of Plenty Economic Development Agency, Toi-EDA.

Chairman the Hon. Sir Michael Cullen expressed his disappointment at the decision and urged the government to support other local development initiatives to build economic confidence in the sub- region. 

“The actual impact of the withdrawal is difficult to quantify and the ongoing effect could be offset to some extent by the frequency and quality of any replacement service, if any come forward. However, as it stands, the decision will clearly disadvantage business travellers moving to and from the sub-region, tourists accessing the internationally iconic White Island and other developing tourism attractions in the area. It takes away from what the eastern Bay of Plenty has to offer as a fantastic place to live, work and play,” Sir Michael said.

The Eastern Bay of Plenty is the home of many successful and growing businesses. The withdrawal of regular air services will be a significant added cost in terms of time and money to these businesses as they travel further to access air services.

The Eastern Bay of Plenty is an important contributor to the wealth of the whole region and nation, with over $1.2 billion of primary products moving west each year to the export port at Tauranga and to other domestic markets.

Rob Tait, Toi-EDA trustee and Chair of Horizon Energy Distribution, explained that it was a critical time in the growth in the eastern Bay which made the decision more difficult to accept.

“We have seen steady growth in export-oriented production in recent years and significant growth will occur over the next decade. This will come from the kiwifruit, dairy and wood industries, and from high-value mānuka honey and derivative products and new aquaculture in the Opotiki District. The increase in export goods is a vital part of meeting the country’s business growth agenda. These developments in turn require forward planning and investment in infrastructure and support.” 

“Modern businesses require a ready level of travel and access for customers, marketing and exchange of technical expertise, in addition to wider regional and national travel links for people involved in servicing, governance and community leadership.

“Every possible opportunity to develop economic activity for regions like the Eastern Bay of Plenty must be taken if we are to see the economic wellbeing of our country enhanced. Many local businesses and their proprietors have invested and committed themselves to ventures that rely on either a regular inflow of customers to the region or to be able to access the rest of New Zealand or the world in order to operate successfully. The withdrawal of this service will cause many to reflect on the future of their business and this may have a negative impact on our regional economy,” Mr Tait said.

While respecting the commercial imperatives driving the Air New Zealand decision, Toi-EDA notes that there are many examples where infrastructure operators take a wider view of the value of the whole network to the economy in such areas as roading, postal services, or water supply.

“One example is NZTA, which has, in fact, recently increased its contribution to roading in the Eastern Bay, recognising the value of servicing rural communities. It clearly doesn’t take the view that each link in the network must pay its own way.”

“We urge Air New Zealand to further consult with the business community of the Eastern Bay of Plenty.  Further we urge the continuation of the airport funding arrangements currently in place between the Ministry of Transport and the Whakatāne District Council, to give time for further dialogue and time for any alternative arrangements to be considered,” Sir Michael said.