Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones has given a blunt warning to Air New Zealand to stop shutting down its regional air links.
The extraordinary censure from the NZ First MP came during last Friday's announcement that the Government was stumping up $1.75 million towards the $4.75m cost of building a new terminal at Bay of Islands Airport near Kerikeri.
Striding towards Air NZ's regional affairs manager, Ian Collier, Jones said ''terminal'' was a fitting word for the warning he was about to deliver.
''Don't keep closing down regional air links. And take that message to your supervisors.''
Later, Jones conceded he wasn't the shareholding minister for Air New Zealand but said he was speaking out as someone born and raised in the provinces.
''They've just ditched Kapiti, Kaitaia is gone with the wind ... While Air New Zealand has become very skilled at moving people around our major metropolitan areas, I think it is quite irresponsible of them to continue to degrade their provincial connectivity.''
As a champion for the regions he was ''absolutely'' within his rights to challenge Air New Zealand, which was still Crown-owned to a significant degree, he said.
''It might ruffle a few governance feathers but I'm not here to stroke the peacock. I'm here to get the mahi done.''
Collier said he didn't want to comment on Jones' reprimand straight away.
Air New Zealand issued a statement this afternoon saying chairman Tony Carter had written to Finance Minister Grant Robertson to reinforce the fact the airline would act independently of the Crown.
He wrote that the Crown's 51 per cent share in the airline gave it rights equal to other shareholders.
"Any appearance of a lack of commercial independence is viewed seriously by the Air New Zealand Board and is ultimately potentially damaging to the interests of all shareholders, including the Crown."
In 2015, Air NZ axed its twice-daily flights to Kaitaia and a number of other regional centres. Earlier this month the airline announced it was also ending flights to Kapiti Coast.
At the same time, however, it has boosted aircraft size and flights to Kerikeri.
Jones' Bay of Islands Airport announcement last Friday was part of the latest tranche of funding delivered by the Government's Provincial Growth Fund.
Also announced was $5m for wharf upgrades at Paihia, Russell and Opua.