In one year Air Chathams has become so much a part of the Whanganui community it now pays rates.

A small celebration at Whanganui Airport on Tuesday marked one year since the family-owned airline took over the Whanganui to Auckland route following Air New Zealand's shock departure from the city.

Air Chathams chief executive Craig Emeny and general manager Duane Emeny piloted a flight which arrived in Whanganui at 9.30am to join the celebrations.

And Duane Emeny told the Chronicle the family-owned airline was here to stay.

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"It's very unusual for a new aviation route structure to make money in its first few months.

"But we've been able to control our costs and be very practical with the way we operate and we're very positive about how it's moving forward.

"As of two weeks ago Air Chathams is officially a ratepayer in Whanganui, we've bought a house here, so if that isn't a big vote of confidence in the area I don't know what is."

Mr Emeny said it became obvious early on that the smaller aircraft it had originally planned for the route wouldn't be enough.

"That's when we invested in the Saab 340.

"And that's been a great success for us. It's really allowed us to develop the route and provide that type of service that the business customers in Whanganui really need."

Since its first flight on August 1 last year Air Chathams has made 1840-plus trips, carrying about 41,000 passengers.

Mr Emeny reflected the quick decision to take up the route just days after Air New Zealand pulled out was "an interesting time".

"Obviously we were just sort of building and developing the Whakatane route, and Whanganui sort of came out of nowhere.

"We saw it as a massive opportunity. A bigger population and it's a route that's been established since the early 1950s."

Whanganui Mayor Hamish McDouall said there was brief panic in Whanganui when Air New Zealand announced it would no longer be flying to Whanganui.

"[Then mayor] Annette Main rushed to Parliament to try and convince the Minister of Transport it was wrong," he said.

"It left Whanganui really unstable for 24 hours and then this knight in shining armour came over the horizon."

Mr McDouall said Air Chathams had quickly become part of the community.

"They engage with the business community, they got the entire community on board with things like the Ranfurly Shield flight and they participated in heritage weekend.

"It's been a year. I think it'll be a decade or more."

Among the cake and celebrations on Tuesday resident and passenger Liz Clark was at the departure gates to see off family.

She said not having to drive to Palmerston North to catch a flight was important.

"You can come here, get straight on, it saves you an hour travelling and come straight home again. It really is great having it here and long may it last."

Whanganui and Partners destination strategic lead Lyn Cheyne said with tourism numbers in Whanganui on the rise an Auckland to Whanganui air service was vital.

"A lot of the travel on Air Chathams is business travel but we will be seeing an increase in holiday visits and people coming down to see friends and family."

Meanwhile, Whanganui Airport manager Allan MacGibbon said having Air Chathams flying in and out of the city was a boost to the airport.

"I mean, this airport belongs to the Whanganui community so it's really about Whanganui.

"We're here to provide facilities so air services can be provided. But if they weren't here it would be pretty difficult to justify keeping things at the level we do."