Air New Zealand’s proposal to close Nelson’s heavy engineering workshop for Q300 and ATR aircraft is a brutal blow for hundreds of Nelson families and our regional economy.
It means the loss of over 100 well paid jobs. Aircraft engineering is a highly qualified profession requiring meticulous skills. We should be proud of the centre of excellence that has been developed here over 20 years and the new engineering hangar at Nelson airport which was opened by Sir John Key in 2015. The growth saw Nelson doing major overhauls for Virgin aircraft and other Pacific airlines. The proposal means we lose the work of the major regular overhauls of turboprop aircraft and are left with the minor overnight maintenance checks.
The blow to our economy is huge. We lose over $10million a year of regional income. It will force the closure of several other Nelson aviation businesses whose major contracts are with Air New Zealand. It weakens our regional cluster of aviation skills that includes aviation engineering, pilot training and helicopter companies like HNZ. It also weakens the diversity of Nelson’s economic base.
The skills of these 100 aircraft engineers cannot easily transfer to other Nelson businesses. Most will have to leave Nelson to secure work. The impact and disruption flows onto partners and children.
I accept that Air New Zealand needs to downsize its engineering staff alongside its pilots, air stewards and ground staff in the wake of the downturn in aviation from the Covid-19 pandemic. My dispute is the permanent closure of Nelson as a heavy engineering base. Aviation will recover alongside domestic and international tourism. It will be very difficult to re-establish this heavy engineering base once the skills have dissipated.
The Government is a 52% shareholder in Air New Zealand and is providing $900 million to support it through this crisis. Nelson provides 2% of the New Zealand Government’s tax revenues and so is providing $18 million of this support. I resent providing this when the company is treating Nelson so poorly.
I commend Mayors Rachel Reese and Tim King for standing up for this local industry and jobs. We want to see an alternative transitional plan to the Covid-19 crisis that helps Air New Zealand retain its engineering workshop here.
I am very disappointed at the silence of the Government parties of Labour, NZ First and the Greens on this closure. It is another example of their neglect of Nelson after earlier this year announcing $8billion of projects around New Zealand with nothing for Nelson. The Government is putting billions into speculative job creating projects in regions like Northland but turning a blind eye to this established industry in Nelson.
Parliament resumes this week and I will be asking the Government to reconsider. I also encourage Nelsonians to sign up to the locally initiated petition on change.org. There has to be a better way to handle this aviation crisis without sacrificing Nelson’s aviation engineering industry.