Aussies eye our airport

Regular scheduled trans-Tasman flights could be back on at Hamilton Airport with the first “credible engagement” between international airlines and the airport company in a decade.

The introduction of smaller Embraer E190 and Airbus A220 aircrafts to Australian fleets meant they could land at Hamilton Airport, chief executive Mark Morgan told Waipā District Council last month. * (*We incorrectly said this week in the published version, we apologise).

Mark Morgan

In his six-monthly report to the council’s Finance and Corporate committee, Morgan said Hamilton’s strategic location close to Auckland also made it an alternate option.

Waikato Regional Airport trades as Hamilton Airport and is the parent company for Titanium Park, Jet Park Hotel and Hamilton and Waikato Tourism.

The group’s operating surplus for the six months ended December 31 was $2.6 million, council Finance manager Jolanda Hechter told councillors in her report.

“The group has experienced challenges driven by the economic environment, but still finds itself tracking to budget for the year-to-date and full year,” she said.

Waipā – which owns 15.6 per cent of the airport company – received a dividend of $78,100 in November for the 2022-23 financial year but the company had not indicated in its Statement of Intent whether a further dividend was likely.

Ken Morris

Deputy chief executive Ken Morris suggested in a draft letter to the company that airport directors should already be in a position at the time of preparing its statement, to include it then.

“Waipā has advocated for many years now for a significant level of dividend to be paid by the company as recognition of the capital and guarantee arrangements provided by the shareholders in the past,” he said.

Other territorial authority shareholders are Hamilton with 50 per cent, Waikato and Matamata-Piako also have 15.6 per cent while Ōtorohanga has 3.2 per cent.

The councils paid $2.125 million in 1989, then another $12 million in 2008-2009. The company is now worth about $234 million based on a recent independent valuation of property, plant and equipment and investment properties.

Ewan Wilson

Hamilton city councillor Ewan Wilson – the founder of the failed trans-Tasman Kiwi International Airlines – has publicly called for a review of the airport company’s strategic direction.

“Hamilton City Council should be looking to sell between 10 per cent and 15 per cent of its shares – possibly more,” he said in a recent Waikato Business News column.

That $12 million could be used to pay debt and lessen the load on ratepayers but could also see the introduction of a commercially minded shareholder in the mix, wrote Wilson.

Susan O’Regan

Asked to comment, Waipā mayor Susan O’Regan said her council had no intention of selling its shares and would in fact be in the market to buy more if they were on offer.

The airport – while named Hamilton – sits in the Waipā district and it is the council’s District Plan which has enabled multimillion dollar commercial development.

Hechter told the Finance committee the council should seek a firmer commitment from the airport company board to advance the “credible engagement” with international airlines.

“The references to this in the draft Statement of Intent are relatively vague and officers believe there should be a greater commitment to make this a focus.”

Morgan said passenger numbers were down three percent but aircraft movements were up seven per cent.

The Jet Park Hotel – used as a managed isolation facility during Covid – had not seen the recovery in customers expected following a $4 million makeover two years ago.

Titanium Park industrial development is almost sold out with only three of the 30 developed hectares on the eastern side of the airport available for sale or lease.

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