New Zealand

 - September 22, 2006, 5:30 AM

According to Qwilton Biel, chairman of the helicopter division of the New Zealand Aviation Industry Association, “If you walk into our industry forum and talk about fractionals, the attendees will think you’re talking about math. It’s just not a concept that’s caught on in New Zealand. You can drive the whole country north to south in one day.”

The market for business jets and turbine helicopters is nearly all leisure, and foreign passengers create about 95 percent of the demand. Just eight business jets operate in country, three of which fly with a New Zealand Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) tail number.

Auckland-based Air National, New Zealand’s largest charter operator, fields a fleet that includes a Jetstream 32 and Westwind II. Iain Ballantyne, the company’s business development manager, said, “We know the expense of taking your own Gulfstream from the U.S., so our message is this: fly Air New Zealand from New York then run around New Zealand and the South Pacific on our Gulfstream or Westwind. I’m doing Air New Zealand a favor by advocating this approach, but we have no program with them.”

According to Ballantyne, Americans who come to the land of the Kiwi often come for the high-end golf courses. One dream destination for duffers is the lush course at Kauri Cliffs, Bay of Islands, which has been rated alongside one of the world’s top five course designs but at a fraction of the price.

Frank Porter, a partner in law firm Buddle Findlay, advises carrier Air New Zealand on aircraft documentation, registry and finance and has tried without success to foster a domestic business jet trade, including for fractional shares.

“Corporate aviation is…sparse,” said Porter. “And it’s unlikely to grow. Corporate offices tend to base in Sydney or in other big Australian cities, and these foreign offices will have the aircraft. Some operators may be avoiding bringing an aircraft onto the CAA registry to bypass being the first in the country. If a type is not already on the registry, there is more work in certification and requirements.”

Aside from a handful of one-man, entrepreneurial enterprises, “We just don’t have the wealth here to support private ownership of business jets,” said Porter. “And we don’t have the security concerns the U.S. has. You can walk down to the café and see the Prime Minister having lunch.” There are no direct tax incentives to purchase a corporate aircraft, or the shareholder understanding of value.

“New Zealand is in its peak of economic conditions,” he said. “So if corporate aviation were going to take off, it would have done so in the last couple of years.”

Expanding the Bizjet Fleet
Most of Air National’s customers use the company’s services for an unusual outing, such as a visit to the Cape Kidnappers Golf and Wine Experience, or a sip
of the Marlborough Wine Trails via the British Aerospace Jetstream 32EP out of Auckland. Ballantyne and staff arrange onboard catering, coach transfer, green fees and cart hire and lunch with wines such as the famous local Sauvignon Blanc.

“Two years ago there were no business jets here,” said Ballantyne. “We used to charter from Sydney, Australia, and that’s six hours in positioning costs alone.”
“We originally brought in an Australian crew with corporate jet experience, since there’s no heritage as such in New Zealand. We did 50 hours of charter in the Gulfstream IV-SP in the first year, then 200 in the second year.” Air National charges $5,750 per hour wet.

“Of maybe 20 pilots with Boeing 737 experience who qualify for a job opening, we look for the one who can mesh with clients and manage the limos and talk with ground staff,” said Ballantyne.

“You talk about a learning curve for pilots and crew to go from airlines to a corporate charter environment, but for [sales colleague] Jason Gray and me, the learning curve was from a $5,000 charter to charters now of $450,000 or more, running several weeks for a music group or a product launch. For example, we fly the trans-Tasman routes (the Tasman Sea) and around Australia then to Tahiti and the South Pacific islands.”

Air National flies a Bombardier Dash 8-100 for up to 40 clients; an Embraer EMB-110 Bandeirante with seating for 15; a 12-seat GIV-SP; a Westwind II; a two-pilot Piper PA-31 Chieftain for eight; a Cessna 421 Golden Eagle; and a six-seat AS 350 Ecureuil. A Citation CJ3 is on order. Some packages combine the larger charter aircraft with a yacht for up to 60 guests.

The company just acquired a Piper Aztec and is flying bankers and advisors to Kinloch in the North Island lake district of Taupo, on behalf of golfer Jack Nicklaus, who is developing a custom course reflecting the Scottish highlands.

Many clients are from the fields of sports and entertainment, such as film crews from The Lord of the Rings; musical crews for Billy Joel, Rod Stewart, the Dave Matthews Band and Joe Cocker; and rugby teams or clubs serving their wealthy fans. SkyCare served John Travolta and his own Clipperfish, providing champagne and cigars along with his fueling en route to a premiere in Australia.

Air National generally fills five seats for a typical entertainer and staff. However, the company usually fills more seats when flying a Russian client. When the Russians charter the GIV-SP for golf packages, Air National typically fills 10 seats with passengers and their equipment.

Domestic clients seem to have little interest in the improved security business aviation provides, but U.S. clients sometimes ask Air National for credentials and pilot biographies. New Zealand is most stringent about non-human hazards, requiring all  commercial passengers to submit bags for screening against food, flora and pests, which could imperil the native balance.

Air National has chartered the Gulfstream to New Zealanders only once, but the smaller aircraft have proven effective for providing domestic corporate shuttle service.

“Our shuttle contract was for an expansion program called the Fletcher Challenge– they’re in the forestry business–flying between Auckland and Rotorua,” which is 100 nm but a 3.5-hour drive. Air National flew its Bandeirante and Chieftain. The shuttle program accepted some 50 passengers as pre-authorized to build an ad hoc manifest.

Ballantyne sees potential for a jet card in the country but not for a fractional ownership program.

“It’s virgin territory for business jets. For now, it just doesn’t enter a New Zealander’s head to use a business jet to get around. We have lots of education ahead.”

Industry Regulation
New Zealand’s CAA monitors and regulates the industry and advises the Minister of Transport, via a five-member authority appointed by the governor-general.

The nation has been deregulating the aviation industry since 1983. Within a few years domestic airlines could be wholly owned by foreign investors; by 1990 air services did not require licensing. Today’s only market requirement is safety certification.

Service between New Zealand and Australia, called the Tasman Sea route, is the busiest in terms of the number of carriers and passenger volume, supporting 10 passenger airlines and four dedicated cargo services.

The CAA Airline Group monitors such operation while the General Aviation Group–which has both a fixed-wing and rotary unit–addresses operations and monitors a rules structure similar to the FARs, at least numerically. Field safety advisors provide general advice and communication with the Part 91 and 135 communities.

Airspace Navigation
ATC in the nation resembles Europe’s model, relying on the Airways Corporation to service pilots under certification from the CAA. Airways Corp. is state-owned and controllers are trained in Christchurch to provide navigation services for both domestic and oceanic airspace.

In 2003 New Zealand revised its aeronautical charts with an eye to simplicity. Airspace is delineated both graphically and via numeric coordinates published in the Air Navigation Register to yield a legal description of boundaries and designated points. Pilots can subscribe to an e-mail service for notification if descriptions change. Transient pilots might find that they need to adjust their FMS displays for the magnetic environment of the Southern Hemisphere.

Volcano Flight-seeing
New Zealand is a volatile geothermic zone, with the region of Rotorua in the center of the North Island drawing tourists to view hundreds of acres of hissing vents for superheated steam, which are kept open. As such, volcanic hazard areas (VHA) are a hot feature.

In 1996 Mount Ruapehu erupted, its ash cloud closing great swaths of airspace. Under section 13 of the Civil Aviation Act, a VHA is open only in daylight unless an operator is in emergency flight or an air ambulance, which brings special reporting requirements before entry. Ash clouds are covered by a sigmet, with a VHA of level five meaning a radius of 50 nm.

Helipro Helicopter Adventures is the largest of dozens of turbine operators that fan the volcanic fumes with flight-seeing, with principal operations at Rotorua in North Island, and Wellington at the Queens Wharf. The Helipro fleet consists of Bell Jet-Ranger IIs and Eurocopters.

“Flight times and routes may vary due to volcanic activity,” noted chief pilot Tim Bornon.

Rotorcraft traffic is congested from September through March, summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Conditions vary from visual flight over sulfur-belching thermal areas, to touchdowns on glaciers, to whale-spotting, to bottlenecked and high-altitude operation into Queenstown 600 nm south of Auckland, which is often compared to the Vail airport for its weather and topographical hazards.