Just four people boarded Air New Zealand's final flight out of Westport this morning, bound for Wellington.

After 68 years of operating out of Westport, Air New Zealand announced in October last year it was abandoning the service.

Air New Zealand regional airlines general manager Sarah Williamson said today that pulling out was a hard decision.

"It's a pity that the aircraft economics make it difficult for us to continue to fly the aircraft? The Beech Fleet have been around in Air New Zealand flights for a long time? [But] in order to cover the costs we needed to sell 15 of the 19 seats," she said.


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"[We] haven't been selling those numbers."

Picton-based Sounds Air takes over the service this evening, offering more flights and a better timetable, but a smaller (nine-seater) plane.

One of today's departing passengers, Debbie Daniels, said she had been a regular user of the service in the past, and was not bothered by the change in the service provider.

"We are lucky to have it? If you don't use it you lose it."

Ms Daniels said the increase in the cost of tickets would not stop her from using the service.

"It doesn't worry me because if you want to go somewhere you have to pay? I think it's brilliant having it here."

Sounds Air will charge a fixed price of $199 for the 40-minute flight.


Air New Zealand charged between $99 and $400, depending on when a ticket was booked, for a 50-minute flight.

A woman, who declined to give her name, was among passengers on today's last flight into Westport.

"I look at that Sounds Air plane, the whole plane only looks as big as the wing on that plane," she said, pointing to Air New Zealand's Beech.

However, she would be taking a flight on the Sounds Air plane next month, and would "see how it goes".

Hamilton-based plane enthusiast Steve Lowe, who had been visiting in Christchurch, made a special trip to Westport this morning to witness the last flight.

An aviation historian, Mr Lowe had been putting together a history of Westport's air services.

He said final flights by Air New Zealand in and out of Westport were under the command of Captain Andrew Mercer, and First Officer Jason McDonald.

Sounds Air will offer 26 flights a week - six more than Air New Zealand - with earlier morning departures and later evening return flights to suit business passengers.

Mondays and Fridays - the busiest days of the week - will feature three return flights. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays will offer two return flights.

The first flight will leave Westport at 6.15am. The last flight will return at 6.40pm.

There will be one return flight on a Sunday evening.

Development West Coast has provided a commercial loan to buy one of the two $3 million former Royal Australian Flying Doctor Service PC12 planes for the service. Sounds Air has a six-year deal with the Buller District Council which will guarantee the first three seats per flight.

Sounds Air has just announced a similar deal with the Taupo District Council to take over the Taupo-Wellington service, which Air New Zealand also abandoned today.

Sounds Air managing director Andrew Crawford told The News recently that the airline would need to buy another PC12 for the route. He said Sounds Air was also looking at a Greymouth-Wellington service and a Blenheim-Napier service.

However, he promised Westport's new service would not suffer if any of them went ahead.

"Westport is a guarantee."

Sounds Air's six-year agreement with the Taupo council means the airline will provide at least three return flights on each week day and two return flights on Saturdays and Sundays, starting as soon as possible. In return, the council will guarantee the first three seats per flight.

Air New Zealand today also abandoned its Auckland to Kaitaia service, where Great Barrier Airlines is stepping in, and Whakatane to Auckland, where Air Chathams will take over.

As well as pulling out of those towns, Air New Zealand's regional carrier Eagle Air will scale back on serving other towns over the next year and will cease as an airline after nearly 50 years of flying.

The first Sounds Air flight will leave Westport at 4.50pm today.