Jetstar announcement thrills Nelson business leaders

11253410Nelson civic and business leaders have reacted with delight to news that Jetstar is coming to Nelson, ushering in a new era of competition and cheaper flights. Locals are also planning to capitalise on the new low cost routes.

The airline announced this morning that it would begin flying Nelson-Auckland in December and Nelson-Wellington in February as it enters the regional market.

With Originair already flying Nelson-Palmerston North and soon to move into the Wellington market, and Kiwi International promising cheap domestic flights when it takes off, regional air travel looks set more competition for passenger dollars than ever before.

Nelson Airport chief executive Rob Evans said the announcement was "the game-changer for regional New Zealand and particularly for Nelson".

"We've been the big winner, we've got both Auckland and Wellington in the initial phase, the only destination to have two new routes."

He said Jetstar would fly 27 Auckland-Nelson  flights a week from December 1 this year, and 21 Nelson-Wellington flights  from February 1 next year.

That equated to 249,500 new seats in and out of Nelson over 12 months.

"It's a huge investment from their perspective.

"We've got the capacity we've been demanding and the cheaper air rates, we've now got to jump on board and use them."

Evans said Air New Zealand was "a magnificent airline" with a lot of capacity and a good loyal customer base, and would respond to the challenge.

"This is good for the consumer."

He said the announcement gave the airport company the impetus it needed for its plan to redevelop or replace the 40-year-old Nelson Airport.

Nelson MP Nick Smith said it was "fantastic news" for Nelson, which depended on its links with other parts of New Zealand.

"Studies show that on average air fares are 30 per cent less where there is effective competition and that amounts to millions of dollars of savings and thousands more visitors to Nelson."

Smith said the Jetstar's link was important to the visitor industry but the biggest gain for Nelson was making nationwide businesses viable in Nelson and for people to be able to easily connect across the country through more competitive air services.

He was "pretty loyal" to Air New Zealand, a good company that deserved credit for its substantial investment in maintenance services in Nelson.

"But I still believe the region's overall benefit is in having a choice of services," Smith said.

Nelson Tasman Tourism  chief executive Lynda Keene said the increased competition was "really great news"' for Nelson and Tasman residents.

Grandparents who travelled  once a year might be able to go three or four times.

"It's definitely going to open up a lot more opportunities."

It was also really exciting from a business perspective, she said.

"We're really fortunate to have a lot of frequency with Air New Zealand which has been a wonderful contributor to the region, but Jetstar coming in is going to make it a bit easier for people coming out of Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch, particularly for trans-Tasman services."

With Originair and Kiwi International joining the regional competition, "it's raining planes", Keene said.

Nelson Mayor Rachel Reese said the city had got behind the campaign to bring Jetstar to Nelson and many  people would be celebrating the news, which would bring a significant economic benefit for the region.

All agree that Jetstar will face stiff competition from Air New Zealand, which announced last week that it will slash two million flights to below $100 over the next year.

Nelson's once-thriving regional airline Origin Pacific went under in 2006 owing $21 million. Brutal competitive tactics by Air New Zealand were widely blamed. More than 200 staff lost their jobs.

The announcement adds further heat to the Nelson air travel market with Originair having started on the Nelson-Palmerston North route earlier this month, and Kiwi Regional Airlines announcing it will be offering $79 tickets from Nelson to Hamilton and Dunedin from October 28.

Joy Davenport said on Facebook that the announcement would not stop her from flying Air New Zealand.

"But with a little competition, I'm hoping the prices of flights will come down."