12 Aug 2015

New airline takes off from Nelson

3:28 pm on 12 August 2015

New Zealand's newest airline takes off today.

Nelson-based Originair begins a daily service between Nelson and Palmerston North today, with flights from Nelson to Wellington due to start next month.

Originair has been created by Nelson aviation businessman Robert Inglis and his business partner Nicki Smith from the remnants of their former airline, Origin Pacific Airways.

Originair plane

Photo: Supplied

Another company, Kiwi Regional Airlines, is to announce details of its planned regional service from Nelson today.

With Air New Zealand, Sounds Air and air2there already running scheduled services from Nelson, it will bring the number of airlines operating from Nelson to five.

Originair founder Mr Inglis said it was a return to an industry he loved, despite the rough patches.

He and Ms Smith started Air Nelson in 1979. Air New Zealand bought 50 percent of the airline in 1988, then the total shareholding in 1996.

They then started Origin Pacific Airways in 1996 as a feeder airline for Qantas. It went into liquidation in 2006 after Qantas' Jet Connect cancelled a contract that resulted in Origin losing 60 percent of its business.

Originair founder Robert Inglis.

Originair founder Robert Inglis. Photo: Supplied

"It was certainly a lesson, and some said we tried to grow too quickly, but I don't think that was the case. If you're approached by an iconic carrier such as Qantas, you'd have to be pretty strong to say 'no', and Origin Pacific operated very well - it was flying close to a million passengers a year with 17 aeroplanes," he said.

Mr Inglis said it was certainly difficult emotionally and financially when it came to an end, but rather than seeing it as the company failing, he saw it more as a result of circumstances outside their control, including a taxpayer bailout of Air New Zealand and the giant created after Qantas was allowed to make a cornerstone shareholding in Air New Zealand.

Origin Pacific invested $2 million in a new terminal and hangar at Nelson Airport, and operated 17 aeroplanes.

The new enterprise is based on one 19-seat Jetstream retained from the former company, the lease of another, a rented office in Nelson city and check-in space at Nelson Airport, and a small team of pilots and ground crew in Nelson and Palmerston North.

Mr Inglis has collaborated with two companies from the Freightways Limited Group, Air Freight NZ Ltd and Fieldair Engineering Ltd, to carry out flight operations and fleet maintenance. He said both companies had decades of relevant aviation experience.

"We are comfortable now operating a very modest airline and paddling our own canoe... that may not be quite the right expression for an airline."

The new service will fill a gap left by Air New Zealand when it pulled out of a Nelson to Palmerston North service in April this year.

Mr Inglis, who has a long history in operating regional airlines, said the opportunity came about after Air New Zealand announced last year it was ending some regional services.

"I've always had an interest in the Nelson-Palmerston route and I was aware that I had an aircraft coming off lease, so the process started, I guess, late last spring."

There are signs that Mr Inglis and the national carrier now share a cosier connection.

"To be fair to them, they've provided us with the passenger numbers they were carrying on the route, and the yields."

He said the Nelson to Palmerston North sector attracted 15,000 passengers a year. On the Nelson-Wellington route, it carried 200,000 people a year.

"This is not something that is difficult for us to achieve. We have operated Nelson-Palmerston-Wellington routes for a long time - since the 1980s.

"If we can do something that adds a little more choice for Nelson travellers, then I'm happy to do that," Mr Inglis said.

He added that while he would "never say never" to another codeshare arrangement, it was not uppermost in mind.

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