Use it or lose it - that's the stark warning to Far North residents as Great Barrier Airlines launches its three-times daily service from Kaitaia to Auckland today.
The airline replaces Air New Zealand, which took off from Kaitaia airport for the last time at 10am yesterday. The national carrier also canned its direct Whangarei-Wellington flights.
Far North Holdings boss Andy Nock, whose council-owned company operates the airports at Kaitaia and Kerikeri, warned people not to take the new service for granted.
"We can't expect Great Barrier Airlines to subsidise our air links with Auckland so it's up to us all to make the route a viable one."
A scheduled air service between Kaitaia and New Zealand's biggest market was vital for economic development in the very Far North, he said.
"We need to use it or we'll lose it."
Great Barrier Airlines will use a 12-seat Cessna Grand Caravan 208B aircraft it bought especially for Kaitaia route with a nine-seater Piper Chieftain as a back-up.
The new service promises to be better than Air NZ's with more frequent departures and a flight leaving at 7.30am on weekdays. One of the main gripes with the Air NZ service was that the first flight left too late for business people to get a full day in Auckland.
Great Barrier Airlines general manager Murray Pope said he was "hopeful we can pick up the baton and run with it, and follow on the good work that was initially done by Air NZ".
The inaugural flight will leave Kaitaia at 2pm today, return about 5.30pm, and depart again at 7pm.
Air NZ will continue to fly the Kerikeri-Auckland and Whangarei-Auckland routes using the 50-seat Bombardier Dash 8 Q300. Meanwhile, Air NZ spokeswoman Emma Field said the last direct flight from Whangarei to Wellington had taken off on April 3 - with only seven customers on board.
"Unfortunately, some routes such as Whangarei to Wellington were struggling to support a 19-seat service and simply not economically sustainable."