Air New Zealand, for reasons I completely get, is a winning brand. It holds a place in Kiwi hearts, including mine.

How can it not? It invokes strong emotions about getting away from it all, freedom, technology and, for me, the pure romance of flight. Travelling to the other side of the globe in a matter of hours is a magical thing, even if we smell bad upon arrival.

Another powerful emotion - or used to be - is the romance of the provinces. Heartland New Zealand. You know, that place where many of us hail from, even though we grew up and made our lives in more glamorous locales.

Early last year I decided to leave my "glamorous" Wellington world and invest half a million dollars in the rural lifestyle I wanted back in my hometown. You can do that in places like Whanganui. It's called getting bang for your buck.


The reasons were myriad. A quieter life, familiarity, a good climate, a thriving arts community, a significant upturn in tourism, and a decent mayor in Annette Main. She'd turned Whanganui's reputation around since Michael Laws attempted to smash it beyond repair.

I took for granted that, since time immemorial, Air New Zealand had several return flights a day to Auckland. The Wellington route was canned years earlier, and the inconvenience was somewhat mitigated by the fact that it's a three-hour drive.

Being able to get to Auckland easily was crucial for me, not least for sanity reasons. Then in May this year - cue the distinctive sound of a needle scratching across a record - Air New Zealand announced it was pulling out of Whanganui on July 31. Altogether.

It felt like a personal body blow. It also sent a powerful message. The message being that Whanganui, a region with over 40,000 people, was not worthy of our national carrier's munificence.

Air New Zealand simply said that they were not seeing "sufficient demand" and yet no drop-off in passengers had been noted by regular travellers, and the airline was not about to share any statistical data with the Whanganui community to prove their position. It was obvious to anyone with half a brain that the truth lay somewhere else entirely.

Air New Zealand's general manager of networks Richard Thomson said Jetstar's flights from nearby Palmerston North had changed the market dynamics of the Whanganui to Auckland route.

So, in other words, to knock their competition out of the park Air New Zealand was totally prepared to ditch a city the size of Whanganui to achieve it.

The mayor, along with local MP Chester Borrows, did everything possible. Together they wrote letters, attended meetings and generally worked every angle they could to convince Air New Zealand that it was a short-sighted and flawed decision.

They're right. It was. Not least because regional development is something the Government has loudly and proudly proclaimed as an issue they care deeply about. Yet, the dollars spent have not matched the rhetoric - unless there's a looming byelection like last year's in Northland. Did they ever get those bridges?

Also, and at the risk of sounding like a socialist, isn't "our airline" 51 per cent owned by the taxpayer? Oh, yes, I think it is. One would imagine that regional development applies to Whanganui, just as it does to Palmerston North - which is now what Air New Zealand calls a "regional hub".

And, yes, it is only about an hour's drive between the two places - which, because we've been told repeatedly, we all know is roughly the average travelling time for Aucklanders to get to Mangere.

But guess what? I didn't choose to live in Auckland. I chose to live in Whanganui, for a quieter life and convenience.

So, Palmerston North's regional boon is quite possibly our regional bust.

We've been lucky to have Air Chathams step up and offer the same services as Air New Zealand. In doing so, they've taken a huge business risk. I applaud them, but worry for them too.

Many Whanganui passengers feel compelled to travel to Palmerston North to guarantee their connections to international flights, and to use the Koru Club membership which they've paid for in good faith, and prior to Air New Zealand pulling out.

If we lose Air Chathams due to these ongoing commercial pressures, then one could make the case that we only have ourselves to blame.

I'd argue that just as the roading network - be it rural or urban - is generally funded by all ratepayers, our national airline would do well to understand what a network is.

Even if the Whanganui route - or any Air New Zealand destination - was losing money (and I don't believe it was), there's a thing called working together for the national interest.

Welcome to corporatocracy. It means business.