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Kia Orana Air to offer domestic service by May

By Helen Greig RAROTONGA, Cook Islands (Cook Islands News, Dec. 30, 2009) – Kia Orana Air, the low-cost domestic airline first proposed in mid-2008, is now due to take off by May next year.

Managing director Mark Lusby says the economic downturn was one contributing factor in the postponement of the launch of the airline which had been planned from late 2008 onwards.

The company has now reapplied for an air service licence to operate a 19-seat Beechcraft 1900D aircraft between Rarotonga and the outer islands.

Lusby says the aircraft which can carry 750 kilogrammes of baggage and cargo has been sourced from the United States. The aircraft is used by numerous airlines around the world including Air New Zealand and is noted for its flight speed, ability to fly at high altitudes, and its ability to operate well on short runways.

"There will be about two to three flights a day. We have a full schedule that will introduce a competitive service," says Lusby.

The airline will go into direct competition with Air Rarotonga which in 2007 dramatically increased its airfares to the Northern group islands causing complaints from the public and concern from government over the high fares from the country’s only domestic airline.

The Manihiki community was left gob-smacked when the one way fare to their island jumped 69 percent overnight – from $682 to $1150 that year.

Kia Orana Air’s attractive airfare prices have now been included in its licence application to the ministry of transport.

There will be a $260 return fare to any Southern group island and a $1600 return fare to the Northern islands. Cargo prices will also be competitive with those of Air Rarotonga.

"The outer islands are hurting over freight so we aim to make it more competitive to enable people to send goods to the islands, and for outer islanders to send their products such as veges, fruit and handcrafts back to Rarotonga at a good rate."

A recruitment drive by the company resulted in so much interest that Lusby says they will have no trouble hiring staff. Lusby, a pilot himself for almost 20 years, will fly for the airline along with six other pilots. He says the company has a policy to hire locals first.

More good news came this year when Lusby secured a business partner for the airline – an Australian aviation and consulting specialist company with resources available to add to the venture’s credibility.

Earlier this year there were setbacks in securing office, hangar and check-in counter space at Rarotonga airport – but Lusby says facilities for Kia Orana Air are now almost signed off on.

Last year former aviation minister Tangata Vavia praised the proposed airline as a step in the right direction to make domestic airfares more com- petitive.

Lusby who has a young family with his wife and business partner Tekura, has previously said he aims to provide Cook Islanders and visitors alike with an efficient, safe and affordable flying choice through Kia Orana Air.

The company’s new application for an air service licence will soon be advertised by government to allow public comment on the proposed operation.


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