Scheduled air service to Auckland Airport later this year

04 May 2021

Whitianga will later this year have a daily scheduled air service connecting the town directly to Auckland Airport, with its relatively easy connections to the rest of the city.

From mid-December, Barrier Air is planning to start operating two flights a day, one in either direction, in an ultra-modern, jet turbine engine-powered Cessna Grand Caravan, which will whisk passengers to their destination in a smidgen over 20 minutes.

The new service will appeal to people wanting to avoid the road journey over the hills between Whitianga and Kopu and then the gridlocked Southern Motorway. It will also find favour with people who currently use charter aircraft to and from Ardmore airfield, which is not ideally located so far south of Auckland.

Barrier Air CEO, Grant Bacon, said they were looking to operate six or seven days a week.

In preparation for the new service, Barrier Air is recommissioning the Whitianga Airfield’s GPS approach, meaning the planes can fly in almost all weather as visibility will not be an issue. However, as there are no landing lights at Whitianga, the planes will only operate during daylight hours.

Barrier Air will be drawing on its experience in flying between Auckland Airport and both Great Barrier Island and Kaitaia in Northland, and between North Shore Airport and Great Barrier.

Currently the airline operates three 14-seat Cessna Grand Caravans and is in the process of purchasing a fourth for the Whitianga route. In peak season it has 35 or 36 staff members, but this will rise to 37 when the new service comes on stream.

Mr Bacon said that their experience with the Kaitaia route since 2015 made them confident that Whitianga would be at least as successful. “It is a town that is going places and it is a community with a lot of ties to Auckland,” he told The Informer. “We have actually built up quite a successful operation in Kaitaia and we think that we are ready for another route and we think that Whitianga is the place to be.

“Whitianga is something that we had been talking about for a while. Following the success we have had with Kaitaia, I think this route will actually be easier, because Whitianga has a bigger population base and the drive to Auckland is arguable worse, having to battle South Auckland traffic.

“So, it is a similar type of journey [by road compared to Kaitaia] and that is why it makes a lot of sense for us and we think we will be quite successful with it.”

Mr Bacon said that flying into Auckland Airport was considerably more convenient than Ardmore, in terms of connectivity with rental cars, buses or people being picked up.

Recommissioning the GPS approach to Whitianga would also provide a level of dependability, as planes could fly in pretty much all weather, using instruments to navigate. “It is a much better experience for passengers because they are above the weather,” Mr Bacon said.

In addition, the Grand Caravan offered a high degree of comfort and safety. “Being a 14-seater, they offer a really nice passenger experience,” Mr Bacon said. “They have leather seats and air conditioning and all the latest safety equipment, which provides a good experience, compared to some smaller planes.

Ticket prices would be a little over or under $80 one way, depending on peaks and troughs, and passengers would likely be allowed 20kg baggage and 7kg carry-on.

Planes would overnight in Whitianga, probably leaving around 7:30am and returning from Auckland at 5:00pm in summer or 4:30pm in winter.

Mr Bacon said they had worked closely with the Mercury Bay Aero Club, the owners of the Whitianga Airfield, and had also kept the Civil Aviation Authority informed of their proposals.

Barrier Air had also discussed its plans with Thames Coromandel District Council which was keen to promote the new service for the town and the benefits it would bring for local businesses.

Local tourism operators would reap the rewards, not just from day trippers but also from visitors who might want to stay two or three nights in Whitianga. “We will be offering accommodation packages, so we will be putting tourism dollars into the town,” Mr Bacon said.

Pictured: Barrier Air CEO, Grant Bacon, at one of the airline’s Cessna Caravans.
The airline plans to start a scheduled service between Whitianga and Auckland
Airport using the Caravans later this year.