Investigating the impacts of aviation subsidies on regional wellbeing in New Zealand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Aviation at Massey University, Manawatū Campus, New Zealand

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Air transport plays an important role in maintaining regional connectivity and accessibility, which links geographically dispersed areas of New Zealand. The regional aviation subsidy policy vacuum in New Zealand highlights the need to understand the relationship between aviation subsidies and regional wellbeing outcomes. The COVID-19 pandemic has devastated economies and many sectors worldwide, including the aviation industry, which has also amplified the challenges for smaller, financially fragile regional airlines and airports in New Zealand. Therefore, this PhD thesis aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the inter-relationships among aviation subsidies, air transport activity, and regional wellbeing by investigating the case of New Zealand. Chapter 1 systematically reviews the prior literature and publications for obtaining a better understanding of how aviation subsidies and their relationship with regional wellbeing have been researched, which provide an initial foundation for the other chapters in this thesis. The findings highlight the effects of aviation subsidies on various facets of regional wellbeing and imply that the full picture of aviation subsidies’ impacts on regional wellbeing remains uncertain. Chapter 2 delineates stakeholders’ perspectives and opinions about the key air transport and regional wellbeing indicators that need to be considered for designing and implementing aviation subsidies. The findings highlight the necessity of integrating economic and social wellbeing into regional subsidy policy design and implementation. Chapter 3 analyses the inter-relationships among aviation subsidies (i.e. airport subsidies), air transport activity, and regional wellbeing during the pre-COVID era. The findings indicate that the provision of airport subsidies benefited smaller and remote airports/regions and stimulated airline services, thereby promoting regional economic prosperity. Moreover, the results suggest that airport authorities in New Zealand should form stronger partnerships and coordinate with policymakers to ensure that airport subsidies are factored into their policies for regional economic development. Chapter 4 examines aviation subsidies’ impacts on regional air passenger flows during the post-COVID lockdown period. It was found that airline subsidies under a trial national aviation funding scheme (i.e. the Essential Transport Connectivity (ETC) scheme) positively impacted regional air travel during the post-COVID lockdown period. Overall, the four chapters of this thesis contribute to the air transport literature on the aviation subsidy‒regional wellbeing nexus, and also offer policy insights to establish a national aviation subsidy framework in the post-COVID-19 era.
Thesis will be uploaded upon the expiry of the journal embargo on Chapter 3 in January 2025.
Local service airlines, Airlines, Subsidies, Regional economics, New Zealand