A special visitor touched down on the tarmac at Hawke's Bay Airport yesterday - and the high-flying plane will soon be connecting the country's biggest wine-producing regions.
A group of wine-industry representatives was given a test flight in the nine-seater Pilatus PC12 plane, which is set to fly direct between Hawke's Bay and Marlborough.
Sounds Air managing director Andrew Crawford said his company was in the "final stages" of sealing the deal with Hawke's Bay Airport, with the service proposed to start in early August.
"Predominantly we see this as a business route - people wanting to get there for business. It's such a pain trying to get from Blenheim to Hawke's Bay when you're in the wine industry."
The Napier-to-Blenheim service would start with two return flights, one in the morning and one in the evening, two days a week - with a view to expand.
Mr Crawford said the price of the flights had not been finalised, but he estimated a one-way ticket would cost about $250.
The concept was the brainchild of Havelock North company director John Stace, who has had a lifelong interest in Marlborough and Hawke's Bay.
Mr Stace said there were "a great number of people" in the wine industry who would use the service, which would also appeal to the tourism and leisure markets.
Sounds Air pilot Craig Anderson said it had taken just 35 minutes to fly the aircraft from Wellington to Napier yesterday.
The flight from Napier to Blenheim would take only 45 minutes.
"For aircraft in this size range, it's pretty quick. It's extremely quiet and smooth, more so than your typical airliner."
The wine-industry contingent, assembled by Mr Stace, applauded as the plane touched down at the airport after a tour of Cape Kidnappers in clear conditions.
WineWorks' Dave Wenley said he was excited about the proposal, because he often travelled via Wellington to visit his company's bottling facility in Marlborough.
"It takes 3-4 hours to get there, due to delays going through Wellington. With this service it takes 45 minutes - you get down to a full day's work. I'm sure it'd be much cheaper too; at the moment it costs $400 [or more] one-way."
Sounds Air has operated for more than 25 years and is regarded as a specialist Cook Strait flyer. It has recently picked up two services that are being dropped by Air New Zealand: a Westport service, and a Taupo-to-Wellington route starting in two weeks.
Securing the Taupo service had made the Hawke's Bay service a possibility as it necessitated the buying of another aircraft.
A check showed the cheapest fare on the national carrier from Napier to Blenheim on Saturday, returning on Sunday, was $658.