Airways may close seven of its regional air traffic control towers because of a collapse in traveller numbers.

The services under review are provided at Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, New Plymouth, Rotorua and Invercargill Airport as well as the airfield flight information services provided at Kapiti Coast Airport and Milford Sound Piopiotahi Aerodrome.

Discussions with the airports, airlines and staff are underway.

Airways confirmed the changes would not impact on the ability to safely fly to these airports.

Chief executive officer Graeme Sumner said air traffic had been low at those locations even before the pandemic.

“It is simply not viable to continue the same level of service at locations where there are no passenger flights,” he said.

“It’s an unfortunate and stark reality, but our focus now needs to be on supporting the long-term recovery of New Zealand’s aviation industry by ensuring our services are affordable and match the reality of the aviation sector now and into the future.”

Forecasts indicate the national-wide network will only recover up to 60 percent over the next two years with expectations that border restrictions would stay in place for some time.

Airways expects 180 staff to be made redundant as the sole provider of air traffic services cut its cost base by 30 percent.

“We now need to consider operating different services at these airports or that they operate as uncontrolled airspace in the same way as other uncontrolled aerodromes in New Zealand that have no Airways service – including Kerikeri, Taupo, Whangarei and Timaru airports,” Sumner said.

Airways will begin consulting with unions next week.

Meanwhile, commercial pilots are fearful some of New Zealand’s air safety will be downgraded to the level of a developing country.

New Zealand Air Line Pilots’ Association president Captain Andrew Ridling said the decision was reckless and an ill-informed approach that puts money ahead of travellers’ safety.

This article was originally published on RNZ and re-published with permission.

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