Fresh Whanganui activity
Air Chathams’ newly acquired and even more freshly painted Saab 340A lines up on the Whanganui tarmac as the Air New Zealand Dash-8 prepares for its final departure.
The City of Whanganui is one of New Zealand’s oldest urban settlements and for many years was regarded as the fifth major city in the Dominion.
However, being almost totally reliant on the surrounding farming industry for its economic wellbeing, the city was one of the hardest hit by the Depression of the 1930s and has never really recovered since.
However, a new spirit is detectable in the city and the Whanganui District. It is “get up and go” with mayor Annette Main leading from the front.
She has been aware for a long time that Air New Zealand was not finding the Whanganui–Auckland route profitable according to its accounting standards. She also knew the airport has been uncontrolled for some time and that unless there was more use of the airport facilities they faced closure fairly shortly.
Whanganui Airport is now experiencing a spectacular revival, with a new flying school about to base itself there and with the arrival of Air Chathams to take over the Air NZ air service to Auckland. This is a massive relief for Ms Main who sees the need for a close connection with Auckland, this country’s economic powerhouse and the place from where economic investment is now coming into the River City.
While it will be some time before Whanganui Airport can satisfactorily house the aircraft and personnel for the new flying school shifting from Feilding, the new air service has started. On 1 August, the day before Air Chathams took over the Auckland flights, an open day was held at the airport to celebrate the new operation with more than 3000 people braving the wintry cold and wet elements to attend.
The successful occasion was triggered off early Saturday evening when Wanganui Collegiate School’s First XV welcomed the arrival of the Air Chathams 34-passenger Saab 340A.
The unfavourable weather meant open day visitors were unable to fly in the Air Chathams Douglas DC-3, although hundreds took the opportunity to inspect its interior. This DC-3, one of the world’s last examples flying regular airline operations, flies on Air Chathams’ Whakatane–Auckland route.
The visitors also enjoyed inspecting the airline’s newly acquired Saab 340A, which will fly the three times daily Whanganui–Auckland run, and the smaller Fairchild Metroliner which will operate twice daily at weekends.
Dozens of interesting aircraft from all over the North Island also provided a static display, and the organisation that has refurbished the control tower mounted an exhibition of the airport’s history. The local Vintage Car Club displayed vehicles and there was plenty of food and drinks for all ages and tastes.
The first Air Chathams Saab 340A flight to Auckland took off on Monday 2 August, returning to Whanganui later in the day. Air Chathams has invested some $1.5m (including the purchase of the Saab) in this new operation which has created five new jobs in the airline.
- Report by Peter Owens, photography by Air Chathams.
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