ANZ blames air traffic controllers for cuts in domestic services

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Air New Zealand (ANZ) is planning to cancel 25 of its weekly domestic flights because air traffic control towers will be closed for certain times of the day.

The Star Alliance carrier says in a statement it plans to cancel 25 weekly services across nine of its regional domestic routes.

It says its regional subsidiaries - Eagle Air and Air Nelson - serve these routes and the destinations affected are: Auckland, Christchurch, Gisborne, Invercargill, New Plymouth, Napier, Rotorua and Wellington.

The cancellations will start from 1 April onwards because that it when the NZ CAA plans to force five air traffic control towers to close twice a day for 30-45min so air traffic controllers can have a rest break, says ANZ.

The flag carrier says the CAA is doing this in response to changes in the country's employment laws which effectively means the air traffic controllers can insist on having "their breaks at scheduled times rather than working flexibly as they have in the past".

ANZ says it is unable to change its flight schedule to suit the air traffic controllers because this would be impractical and would disrupt the schedule across the network.

It adds, the changes put jobs at risk at 19-seat Beech 1900 operator Eagle Air and 50-seat Bombardier Q300 operator Air Nelson.

A CAA spokesman in Wellington says commercial aircraft can still land at airports with no air traffic control.

He says the CAA is working with national air navigation services provider Airways New Zealand to have a mandatory broadcast zone at the airports when the air traffic controllers are on rest break.

But in an emailed response to a query from ATI, an ANZ spokesman in Auckland says this solution is insufficient.

"When the tower is shut it becomes uncontrolled airspace with transponders mandatory during that time".

"However, there is an additional restriction placed on Part 121 schedule service operators - operating aircraft of 30 or more seats - which prevents Air Nelson" from operating Q300s into and out of those ports during the closure period, he says.