A SIGNIFICANT number of people in Southland choose to travel to airports outside the region to board flights, an air travel survey conducted by Venture Southland and Invercargill MP Sarah Dowie has found.
The online survey, undertaken last month to gain a better understanding of the issues and opportunities associated with air travel to and from Invercargill Airport, attracted 651 responses.
The total number of return flights taken by respondents in the past two years was estimated at 6835, of which 2939 (43%) were flights which departed from other airports, 61% from Queenstown Airport and 36% from Dunedin Airport.
Respondents cited the price and availability of connecting flights among the most common factors they considered when deciding which airport to depart from.
“We should not be driving for hours to simply catch a flight when we have a fully functioning airport and demand to fill services,” Ms Dowie said.
“We need to make our city more accessible if we want to continue to grow… it is time Air New Zealand and other airlines acknowledge local demand for more cost-effective flights and linked services.”
Suggestions provided by survey respondents to improve air travel services in Southland included offering cheaper airfares, airline competition, adjusting travel schedules and direct flights to Auckland and Australia.
Venture Southland group manager, business and strategic projects Steve Canny said the survey findings would form the basis for a more detailed investigation into Invercargill air travel by Impact Consulting and enable Venture Southland to better advocate for improved air travel services for the region with Air New Zealand and those considering establishing an operation in and out of Invercargill Airport.
The Southland Regional Development Strategy (SoRDS) highlighted the need to enhance and grow the Southland economy and tourism industry, he said.
“A principal way this will be achieved is by making Invercargill more accessible through the development of our air travel services.”
SoRDS governance board chairman Tom Campbell said as long as there were no direct flights from Invercargill to Auckland, people were bound to choose to travel to Queenstown or Dunedin to board direct flights.
“From SoRDS’ perspective, we are more concerned about where tourists are arriving from. The main thing is to encourage Air New Zealand and others to improve the service out of Invercargill. I emphasise, others.”
Invercargill Airport chairman Tommy Foggo said the board was aware there was some “slippage”.
“Obviously we would like people to be travelling through our facility, but we have no real control over scheduling and pricing.”
Mr Foggo said the newly renovated airport had been built with capacity for the next 20 to 30 years.
“We could cater for whatever schedule is thrown at us,” he said.
The last review of air travel to and from Invercargill was conducted in 2009.