Business North July / August 2021

18 | Resilient Air Chathams still flying high Richard Loader The Chathams was one of the few markets in the world that had an increase in tourism through Covid. “We experienced a 32 percent increase and were probably one of the only markets in the world that had an increase in tourism through Covid.” REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT Air Chathams L ike all aviation businesses, Covid’s im- pact on family owned and operated Air Chathams was significant. Servicing remote and smaller regions within New Zealand, along with an international service to the Norfolk Islands, in pre-covid times Air Chathams did 115 flights each week, carrying passengers and freight, with charter work on top of that. When Covid effectively placed Air Chathams into an eerie state of hibernation the airline’s survival came down to central Government’s rapid response and support, firstly by way of wage subsidies for its 150-team members, and then the implementation of the Aviation Support Package. In addition to providing relief in airways costs and CAA Passenger Levies, the package also provided pathways for funding to assist with freight flights. “That was hugely important when it came to operating through lockdown levels four and three to the Chatham Islands to ensure we could maintain that essential link for grocer- ies, mail and the export of seafood product into the mainland,’ says Chief Operating Of- ficer Duane Emeny, whose father started the business in 1984. “When we went into a level two environ- ment ,the Government had developed the Essential Transport Connectivity Scheme (ETC), which is ongoing and we’re still receiving that funding, although on a lesser basis than before.” Effectively the ETC underwrites all Air Chathams’ services and, using cost-modelling developed by KPMG, any losses are subsidised week-by-week or if better than break-even is achieved no funding is received for that week. With Kiwis unable to travel overseas, once the country emerged from its internal lock- down Air Chathams found a large increase in demand for visitor travel to the remote, un- spoilt and covid-free Chatham Islands. “We experienced a 32 percent increase and were probably one of the only markets in the world that had an increase in tourism through Covid,” says Duane. “In more recent times, with the announce- ment of Trans-Tasman quarantine free travel and also into the Cook Islands, we’ve seen a significant demand for our mainland services — so the likes of Whakatane, Whanganui and Kapiti Coast. We always said we would need that to restore our pre-covid schedule and we’re on track to do that this August.” Air Chathams other key post-covid mile- stone was the reinstatement of the interna- tional sector between Auckland and Norfolk Island on the 10th of June for the first time since March Last year. “Generally June, July and August is the quiet season for Norfolk Island but with everything that is happening, there will be more demand than normal and like the Chathams, it has re- mained Covid free throughout the pandemic. “We’re already seeing good demand for passengers and cargo. Starting with one flight a week, we will build up to two flights a week as from the 2nd of August and we may even need a third flight yet. “It ties in nicely with what we do out of the Kapiti Coast, utilising the same Saab aircraft to operate the Norfolk sectors.” Reflecting on Air Chathams’ resilience when faced with the pandemic’s challenges, Duane has no doubt that the bedrock has been a ‘family culture’ that connects the team to the common goal of serving remote and smaller regions. “Our whole team understands just how important those regions are to the greater picture of NZ Inc. “That family culture is unique in that you will see the owner of the airline flying a plane, or wandering through the engineering hangar, or engaging with people day-on-day. “The fact is our CEO is around all the time and people can pop into his office and have a yarn to him about anything, be it the weather, a sports game or work related. “That is the family atmosphere that has got us through. 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