'Air New Zealand can't call themselves the national carrier'

09:09 am on 22 March 2018

Two mayors of towns that have lost their Air New Zealand connections back Shane Jones' scrap with the national carrier.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern intervened - saying he went to far - after Mr Jones suggested the airline's chair and some members of the board should be sacked for abandoning regional routes.

Mr Jones has said Air New Zealand should stop "short-changing" services to regions, and questioned why money was instead being spent by the national carrier to bring Mr Obama to this country.

The airline, which is 51 percent owned by the government, abruptly withdrew its service into Kāpiti earlier this month. Three years ago it stopped flying to Kaitaia, Whakatāne, Westport and Taupō.

RNZ political editor Jane Patterson with an analysis of Mr Jones' comments about Air New Zealand

Buller District mayor Garry Howard. Photo: RNZ / Tracy Neal

Buller District mayor Garry Howard and Whakatāne mayor Tony Bonne applaud Mr Jones' support for their towns.

Tony Bonne Photo: RNZ / Leon Menzies

Mr Howard told Morning Report Air New Zealand had lost the loyalty of regional New Zealand.

"It was very very disappointing the way they went about, first of all being a predator air service, and then once they had actually got control ... withdrawing the service completely.

He said Sounds Air, which took over after Air New Zealand withdrew, provided a better service.

Mr Bonne agreed, saying Whakatāne embraced Air Chathams which stepped in when the national carrier left, with it boasting a 17 percent increase in travellers in the last three years.

"Air New Zealand can't call themselves the national carrier anymore, Mr Bonne said

Victoria University's Bryce Edwards told Morning Report that in attacking Air New Zealand, Mr Jones was doing some classic and effective populist campaigning.

"[He has] identified a neglect in New Zealand where people are hurting. He's being their champion. He's identifying an enemy - [the] Air New Zealand board - and he's going hard against them."

The message would really resonate in the provinces and there were a lot of votes up for grabs in those areas, Dr Edwards said.

But he said Mr Jones needed to come up with some solutions rather than just harassing the airline.

"I don't think [Jacinda Ardern will] be terribly unhappy with NZ First asserting themselves" - Bryce Edwards