Queenstown flight-seeing operators are hoping for calmer conditions after two months of Covid-19 turbulence.
The Government decides today on when the country moves to alert Level 2, under which inter-regional travel and flight-seeing will be back on the menu.
Air Milford chief executive and 48-year aviation industry veteran Hank Sproull said everyone was peering a few months into the future, trying to guess how many passengers they would have.
Only then would he know how many aircraft he would need and whether he would have to lay off staff.
"It's about trying to plan so we don't go under and trying to plan for the unknown, which is very difficult.
"We're probably going back where we started from 22 years ago."
The three major operators spoken to by the Otago Daily Times are all relying on the wage subsidy scheme to keep their staff on.
But they have to keep paying the high overheads associated with the aviation sector: for operating compliance, aircraft maintenance and insurance; and leases.
When they do return to the skies, they will be hampered by distancing rules that will reduce the number of passengers they are allowed to carry.
Sproull said it was fortunate the pandemic had struck after several strong years for his business and 11 staff.
"Last season was the best we've ever had, so we've come into this with a really good financial position."
Glenorchy Air managing director James Stokes said he had spent the past two months focused on looking after his 13 full-timers and five aircraft, and planning innovations such as shorter flights and new pricing structures.
However, "being theoretically able to operate is one thing, having people to carry is entirely another".
"We're not expecting to have any significant income for some time, and we've made plans for that."
Even if New Zealanders flocked to the region, they would not compensate for the international visitors who formerly made up 85 per cent of business.
Bringing back Australians, hopefully before the end of the ski season, would be a "massive lifeline".
Stokes said laying off staff would be the "last resort".
"It's important we keep our infrastructure together, both people and equipment, so when it does come back we're strong."
Totally Tourism director Mark Quickfall said that the prospect of resuming operations this week was the "light at the end of the tunnel" for his staff.
"Initially, it's just to get the wheels turning. We certainly won't be a profitable business for some time but at least it keeps us in the game."
Before the pandemic, the company was operating 21 helicopters and seven fixed-wing aircraft across three businesses in Queenstown and on the West Coast — The Helicopter Line, Milford Sound Scenic Flights and Glacier Helicopters.
Business owners had two options — close down and sell their assets or "manage in survival mode" until the market recovered, Quickfall said.
"If you close the business down, you lose a lot of intellectual property and tacit knowledge, and it would be hard to ever recover from that.
"Our preference is to give it our best shot."
The quick resumption of direct flights to the resort from Auckland and Christchurch, and later flights across the Tasman, would be critical to the industry's survival, he said.