26 Nov 2009

Mike Pero drops Erebus charter flight idea

9:30 pm on 26 November 2009

Businessman Mike Pero says he's letting the dust settle before deciding if there will be a remembrance flight to Mt Erebus in January.

In an interview on Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint, however, he seemed disenchanted with the idea of going further with it.

He had intended to charter a Boeing 747 to fly over the site but, following criticism from Air New Zealand, the plan has been put aside.

Mr Pero says he believes that the controversy has led to plane supplier Qantas getting cold feet, by suggesting flight attendants won't be available for the trip.

He says he imagines the supplier wouldn't want to be involved in the matter, which had turned into a "can of worms."

In any case, Qantas has confirmed to Radio New Zealand that it doesn't have a plane available for the day Mr Pero had in mind.

Saturday marks 30th anniversary of crash

Air New Zealand has said it's disturbed at Mr Pero's timing in announcing his flight, just before Saturday's 30th anniversary of the crash, in which 257 people died. It also said the venture appeared to be a PR stunt.

The airline later said it has no issue in principle with such flights, just the timing of Mr Pero's announcement.

Mr Pero says he has not received any negative emails about his proposal.

Doubt cast on commercial viability

Mr Pero had said he would put up $100,000 of the $1m cost of the flight but the Melbourne company he was in talks with, Antarctica Sightseeing Flights, said that at the ticket prices he was suggesting the charter would not work as a commercial venture.

Managing director Phil Asker said Mr Pero might be "staring down the barrel of a serious loss" if he didn't get enough people on the flight.

Mr Asker says that since 1994 his firm has run 84 flights to Antarctica and he has long wanted to operate out of New Zealand,

Suggestion Government should fund flight

As part of this weekend's anniversary commemorations, Air New Zealand is flying six family relatives chosen by ballot to Mt Erebus.

One of the passengers, Eric Houghton, who was nine when he lost his father, says an appropriate memorial flight would be for all the families of the 257 victims, and paid for by the Government.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister says that has not been considered.